AS AN UNPRECEDENTED SCHOOL YEAR COMES TO AN END, MILLIONS OF PARENTS, STUDENTS, AND FACULTY MEMBERS ACROSS THE COUNTRY ARE LEFT WONDERING IF SCHOOLS WILL REOPEN IN THE FALL AMID THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC. THIS PAST SPRING, FORTY-SEVEN STATES (WITH THE EXCEPTION OF NEBRASKA, WYOMING, AND MONTANA), AS WELL AS WASHINGTON D.C., SHUT DOWN PUBLIC AND PRIVATE K-12 SCHOOLS STATEWIDE AS SARS-COV-2, THE NOVEL CORONAVIRUS THAT CAUSES THE DISEASE COVID-19, BEGAN ITS RAPID SPREAD. THE MAJORITY OF SCHOOLS REMAINED CLOSED FOR THE REST OF THE SCHOOL YEAR AND MANY IMPLEMENTED REMOTE LEARNING PROGRAMS. SCHOOLS IN ALL FIVE U.S. TERRITORIES – AMERICAN SAMOA, GUAM, NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS, PUERTO RICO, AND THE U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS – WERE ALSO CLOSED FOR THE REMAINDER OF THE SCHOOL YEAR. SOME, INCLUDING SCHOOLS IN MONTANA AND IDAHO, OPENED THEIR DOORS AGAIN FOR A FEW WEEKS BEFORE THE 2019-2020 ACADEMIC SCHOOL YEAR FINISHED WITH THE THOUGHT OF GAINING EXPERIENCE IN REOPENING THAT COULD BE USED IN THE FALL. TEXAS IS ALLOWING SCHOOLS TO OFFER IN-PERSON SUMMER SCHOOL WHICH STARTED ON JUNE 1ST, WITH CLASSES LIMITED, FOR NOW, TO ELEVEN PEOPLE.
Families and communities need schools to be ready to reopen as soon as public health officials signal it is safe. While remote learning can be effective, it's challenging for many students and isn’t always ideal for younger children, especially when both parents are working and unable to assist. The bottom line, when public health officials give the green light, schools should be prepared to reopen. And a number of public health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), have indicated that they expect schools will likely be able to reopen this fall. In a recent interview with CNN, Dr. Fauci stated, "I hesitate to make any broad statements about whether it is or is not quote 'safe' for kids to come back to school." Adding, "Children can get infected, so, yes, so you've got to be careful. You got to be careful for them and you got to be careful that they may not spread it. Now, to make an extrapolation that you shouldn't open schools, I think is a bit of a reach." Ultimately, Dr. Fauci said the decision to reopen schools needs to be based on the level of infection in each community, and added that safety measures must be put in place before reopening.
Children, of course, are not the only ones in schools; there are over three-and-a-half million school teachers nationwide, and an untold number of aides, assistants, administrators, counselors, food-service workers, custodians, guards, and school bus drivers. There are also vulnerable staff, faculty members, and students who are at-risk and need to be kept safe. With all of this in mind, the question remains: what would reopening schools in the fall look like? Reopening in a manner that is safe and responsive will involve a number of complex and novel challenges, which is why it is critically important to start planning immediately. Many of the complexities are reflected in guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which were released in mid-May. Among other measures, the CDC advises, when “feasible,” spacing desks six-feet apart, having children eat lunch at their desks, teachers and students using cloth face coverings, regularly cleaning and disinfecting frequently-touched surfaces, and preventing younger kids from sharing toys. In addition to the guidelines, the CDC also developed a reopening "decision tree" for school administrators.