Why CDC reopening guidance is just the start of K-12 recovery
School leaders may be looking for even more substantial assistance in reopening schools than the guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control last week.
Bringing students back to classrooms will take a substantial amount of resources beyond what many districts can marshal on their own, says Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington Bothell.
“District leaders have been eager to have the pressure taken off them to be their own epidemiologists,” Lake says. “Every district leader knows getting kids back to school in-person is the first order of business and they’re hoping the Biden administration can help them manage those politics and rebuild trust among teachers and parents that it’s safe to come back.”
The CDC and the U.S. Education Department last week released its safety strategies in “ED COVID-19 Handbook, Volume 1: Strategies for Safely Reopening Elementary and Secondary Schools.”
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The agencies said district leaders must require everyone to wear masks and continue to group students into pods that remain together through the day. Schools should also use cafeterias and auditoriums for classes and stagger the use of communal spaces, the guidance says.
While teachers unions and organizations that represent administrators promptly praised the guidance, reopening schools goes beyond these basic and essential safety measures, Lake says.
District leaders and teachers will also need substantial assistance in helping students make up lost learning time, she says.
“There’s a recognition that this will be a long haul,” Lake says. “This question of learning loss is not going to go away immediately. The Biden administration, I hope, is thinking about longer term supports and research that it relevant to school districts’ needs.”
On the facilities side, districts will need funding to improve ventilation systems and other equipment. On the technology front, all education stakeholders have more work to do in closing the digital divide when it comes to both devices and internet access, Lake says.
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Educators will also need help in beefing up interventions to students who have fallen behind. One approach gaining momentum are more formalized tutoring services that are embedded into schools and available to students at no cost, she says.
District leaders may have to reorient their resources but will also require support from the federal government to build out tutoring programs, she says.
Some of the solutions, such as tutoring will require that district partner with community organizations and share the decision-making. “There’s so much opportunity for innovation going forward and we’ve just touched on what’s possible in the course of this year,” Lake says. “I’m excited when I hear district leaders talk about how we can rebuild in ways that are fundamentally better than what we had before.”