Pandemic Education

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges everywhere, including public education. Our schools, their approach to instruction, and their instructional practices were built around the very thing that spreads the virus the most: close, regular, sustained, interaction between diverse groups of children, teachers, parents, and staff. So what do we do now?

I’ve written a series of posts to help the community– and myself– answer this question. Here they are:

The problem is a complex one to solve, and there are very persuasive arguments (and data) that support a number of different approaches. In addition to the posts above, below are a short list of sources that I’ve found most helpful in developing my thinking on this. Perhaps they will help you too. If you have other credible sources that have helped your own thinking, please share them with me in the comment section below.

7/28 update: The school board passed a health and safety plan that includes reopening schools. I offered two amendments based on the information I’ve shared here, but both failed. More at: 7/27/20 School Board Meeting Guide. 8/4 update: I’ve added an additional post to this series:

Articles for Further Reading:

Reports for Detailed Information:

6 thoughts on “Pandemic Education”

  1. Specifically regarding Elementary: I still can not determine, based on the multiple “green” phase options in the deck, whether the Board is being asked to vote on an initial “3-ft” plan (requires masks all day) or a “6-ft” plan (kids will be spaced far enough apart that they can remove masks at their desks.) Personally, that likely makes the difference to us as a family, as to which “option” we will decide on initially.

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    • It makes a difference to me too. My understanding is that the revisions to the plan– specifically the decision to not have all elementary students in each building every day (the so-called ‘hybrid’ plan)– were made specifically to ensure this 6 foot distance was possible. I expect this will be further clarified at the board meeting Monday night (and if it isn’t, I will ask for clarification in the meeting).

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      • If the “3-ft Green phase” option is now “off the board,” then they should just take it out of the deck completely…just confuses the confusion, so to speak. Your tireless work on this is very much appreciated, Thank You!

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  2. I am hoping that the kids of the option to return to school, even if it is 3 days a week. My son will be a junior, and he had a terrible time with online learning this spring. He doesn’t like to do homework, and needs the structure a classroom brings. He knew he could wait until the 11th hour to do the work this spring, and even though we were on top of him, it was a battle. I don’t see him doing well with Remote learning, and as a Junior, and looking onto college prospects, it is VERY important for him to have the grades he needs. I have already talked to him about the options, and of course he’d rather stay home….but with that being said, he thinks he can somehow not be present for online live classes. I believe he learns better in person then from a computer screen.
    I also think that the social aspect is very important to look at. My son misses his friends. I have seen him change over this pandemic (as I am sure MANY other parents have also) He is a little more depressed, stays to himself, and is more difficult to engage with. I fear that if the kids aren’t returning to school, it is going to have more of a negative impact on them mentally.
    I know there is a major issue with transportation. And also parents that work with smaller kids who can’t be left home alone….are Daycares going to take on the burden of kids doing remote learning? Can parents afford to spend the money for FULL time daycare verses before and after care? These are serious concerns.
    I agree with the block schedule that was proposed, where classes are longer and they finish a subject in half a year. But I really want my son in school if possible. I know this is a challenge. And MANY won’t agree, but this is what I feel is right for MY child. Everyone is different.

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  3. With the 6 feet of separation being used as much as possible, they should be reminding parents that even if a teacher allows a student to remove masks at their desk, they will need to put them back on for many things during the day. Anytime they move in the classroom, go to the bathroom, ask a question requiring an adult to be closer to them, need something read to them, move throughout the hall, on the bus, etc. According to East Penn teachers I know, it hasn’t really been clarified whether it is up to the classroom teacher as well if they will allow students to remove the mask in the classroom, so it might not be a given that your child can take it off at all? I have a feeling if adults are moving throughout the classroom, the students should all be wearing their masks because no one is every truly 6 feet apart.

    I am telling my children that they will need to keep the mask on at all times unless they are eating. I have a feeling it will be very confusing for younger children to be trained as to when they will need the mask on or off. On unless you are eating – keep the rules easy to follow.

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  4. My spouse is a teacher in EastPenn, and we’ve been listening to the meeting on the 27th for over a couple hours, and I have some concerns/comments.

    The board’s discussion regarding the 6 feet, masks, and mask breaks being a great way to mitigate the risk. Specifically, in the high school–has anyone been in a classroom recently, before this all started? We’re dealing with teen-agers, some of whom have parents that vociferously disagree with the mask mandate–I presume you’ve seen the comments from these people on Facebook? In many classes, there is a least one student that may be a discipline problem, challenging the teacher’s authority. Some of these students, empowered by their parents’ positions regarding masks, are going to create health risks, and added levels of discipline management/mitigation by teachers. You’re going to see students deliberately wearing masks under their noses, under their chins, refusing to put them on after a break, and intentionally coughing. Discipline often took more than a week to resolve in the past–has anyone considered how will this be handled now?

    Regarding the infection rate (PCR) in the county being either 3% or 5%… the argument was mentioned of using 5% to give us “wiggle room” because we were already close to 3%. Wanting wiggle room should NOT be an argument for raising that number to 5%. Safety and the risk of infection should be the argument. Aside from that, I would assume, in either case the school wouldn’t be opening/closing daily based on the fluctuation–it would have to be taking into account the direction of the graphed trend. Further, although the infections in the county may not be in the school system, if we hit those numbers in the county, that means the numbers are trending up–isn’t it better to close preemptively before infections get a foothold in the community?

    Based on current numbers at the time I write, the PA state corona virus dashboard indicates there are 4,646 cases. 3% of Lehigh residents would be 11,079, 5% would be 18465–these are calculated of the population of 369,318. The positives are currently climbing, and it appears this will continue I fear, unless we go back to Yellow phase. We will hit the PCR of 3%. And, schools were closed in the spring when we had much lower numbers. So what has changed? Why is this safe now? I believe the PCR should dictate closure–this should not be flexible or a moving target.

    Finally, I have to ask this. Is the board and school system confident enough in these plans discussed, that they are prepared to assume the liability if an infection that results in death or permanent health issue? There will be lawsuits–that’s not a threat, and it’s not meant to be confrontational.

    I know you, the other board members, and the administration have done a lot work, spent a lot of hours dealing with this plan and the associated issues. The thoughts and points considered have been thorough. But, at a very basic level case numbers are still rising–and the board meetings are virtual. I have every expectation numbers will continue to rise. Why should we be sending our spouses and children to work and school when the board cannot meet in person?

    I’m not comfortable sending our spouses and children to work and school without hard metrics that dictate closure.

    Thanks for listening.

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