Education in East Penn will be dramatically different this fall than the past. Let’s get that point out of the way right from the start. The continued failure to control the pandemic in the United States has shattered the hopes of reopening public schools with any semblance of normalcy.
The Current Plan
In Pennsylvania, schools are required to develop a health and safety plan that will govern the operation of the school district in the coming school year. Here are the broad outlines of the plan East Penn is currently developing:
- Parents will get to choose between 100% online instruction or instruction that is in-person twice a week. For those that choose in-person instruction, students will attend several days a week (probably two, but this is still being worked out), and complete instruction online on the other days.
- School buildings and classrooms are being modified to safely accommodate in-person instruction. Furniture is being removed to free up space for social distancing, group tables are being replaced with individual desks, large areas likes gyms, cafeterias, auditoriums are being repurposed for classroom use, and schools are being equipped for more frequent and thorough disinfecting. Student desks will be kept six feet apart whenever possible. All students, teachers, and staff will be required to wear masks at all times except when they are stationary and at least six feet from any other person. To minimize the spread of germs, student movement through the school and the sharing of school supplies will be minimized. Water fountains will be disabled and lunches will be pre-packaged and served in classrooms.
- Online instruction will be done by regular East Penn teachers. It will include regular grading (and deadlines), the full curriculum, and a new online teaching and learning system– called Schoology— that is more powerful and has more features than the Google Classroom used in the spring.
There are many more details in the current draft of the plan, which you can read for yourself here. Many other details continue to be worked out. But I think this broad sketch provides a good overall sense of what we can all expect this fall.
7/24 edit: I’ve modified the description above since first writing this post to reflect ongoing revisions being made by the district in response to teacher and parent feedback as well as changing public health recommendations.
What Should We Do?
Is this a good plan? As tempting as it is to ask, I think this is the wrong question. Given where we’ve been put in the current pandemic, ALL the choices available to East Penn and other school districts are– quite frankly– awful choices. There are no good solutions. So it isn’t a question of whether or not this is a good plan. The question is whether this is the least bad option that we can pursue right now?
There are no easy answers. I worry about the out sized confidence of both many who advocate for a complete reopening of the public schools, as well as many who insist the schools should remain completely shut down. Both these positions are fueled by the social media platforms that continue to promote simplistic, black-and-white solutions to complex issues. Neither of these positions is well supported by the available evidence or the weight of expert opinion.
In order to help both myself and others think through the many issues at stake here, this is just the first of a weeklong series of posts on reopening the schools. Here are the others:
- This is What Failure Looks Like
- A Case for Reopening Our Schools
- A Case for Keeping Schools Closed
- Pandemic Education
Throughout this series, I encourage your questions, your concerns, and your perspective. Please share them in the comment area available at the bottom of every one of my posts.