There has been a lot of promising news in the last few weeks about several promising Covid-19 vaccines. School leaders and parents are certainly among those cheering for the regulators and these companies on but the reality is that it might still be a while before schools can discount Covid-19 in their planning and operations. This is not to say that there aren’t those who want to see educators included alongside health-care workers and those at high-risk are in the earliest stages of vaccine administration. Schools have also traditionally played an important role in public inoculation and experts have drawn parallels to the example of schools and polio in the 1950s. However, much remains to be accounted for individually by the states, legal entities, and manufacturers before there is any certainty. With this in mind, superintendents should focus optimizing their long-haul Covid-19 plan as well as the possibility that the 2021-2022 school year can begin at least superficially like years past.
In-person, remote, hybrid. Words that were just a year ago the parlance of academics and theorists are now part of the daily conversation in school districts. When the pandemic first broke out schools could be forgiven, a bit, for patchwork solutions and improvisation. I mean, these can get you really far if done well, just think of Apollo 13! However, many of the ongoing issues of this school year could have and should have been avoided. In terms of opening safely, schools should follow WHO and CDC guidelines as best as possible and spend the necessary time and energy looking for inconsistencies and gaps. Planning should not focus around if schools must be closed but what will happen immediately when they do. Gears have to be ready to be changed because that is the only way to prevent wasted time and unnecessary scrambling. With this in mind central offices should consider all of the following:
- Remote Learning Endurance Are there enough devices? How are they managed? What is the state of the infrastructure? How will we ensure functionality? There can’t be any questions if schools are to be able to switch on the fly.
- Pragmatic Hybrid Learning What is reasonable to account for 100% in terms of sanitation and personnel? How much is beyond the control of the school? To call the outlooks this last fall optimistic isn’t enough. In-person learning is fantastic, don’t get us wrong, but any idea of dependency on a hybrid model needs thorough examining.
- Targeted Professional Development What skills or tools are staff lacking most in these hybrid and remote scenarios? How can staff best be professionally supported in an immensely uncertain time? There are a number of services available to help schools that can afford them but there are also shining stars on every staff that can be rewarded and given a platform to help their peers.
- Staff and Student Mental Health What services can we provide? How do we make them more accessible? If the effects of this pandemic drag-on, and they may, it’s only going to wear more on communities already long worn. Even those unaffected by the virus itself may find themselves worried or stressed. To reach their best potential the students and staff will need accessible support services.
In Person 2021-2022
Hurray, the vaccines are successful and available! This is the ideal scenario to focus on and plan for right? Yes, well, of course, but — are things going to go right back to normal? Like 2019? Maybe not? Maybe never?
There is no shortage of experts and pundits who claim education will “never be the same.” Try searching Google for “education will never be the same covid-19” and you’ll see there are more than 645,000,000 results. That’s a lot of thinking for something that wasn’t in anyone’s mind one year ago. You’ll find most is optimistic though, which is always nice. People see this is a chance to reimagine the school model, to combine the best practices of the past with the “futuristic” possibilities this pandemic has forced us all to jump into. Just think of all of the devices that districts have pushed out. They’re not going to vanish with Covid-19, and they shouldn’t.
Which is all fine and exciting, and we’re certainly more than on board, but for pragmatism’s sake what’s the catch?
Staff and students that cannot or won’t be vaccinated.
There are a myriad of discussions and debates going on right now about the legality of vaccine mandates. And that is something that politicians, legal teams, states, and communities will have to wrestle with. But as we say in education (or is it showbusiness?) “the show must go on!” And with this in mind we have only one recommendation to focus the immediate planning on:
- Maintain Remote Accommodations This goes for students and staff members. The easiest way to plan for a world beyond Covid-19 and Covid-19 ongoing is to plan for them to exist in parallel. Whatever their reasons, personal or economic, giving people a way to remain a part of the school remotely even if in-person learning is theoretically possible, is the best way to accommodate individuals and their circumstances.
It’s a lot to focus on, but we at Script are here to help. Let us clean up, optimize, and automate your district’s paperwork so that you can get your brightest minds figuring out the year to come.