Here are the key questions to answer to safely reopen schools

Education organization's guide covers scenarios such as students falling ill, ed-tech needs and social distancing
By: | June 4, 2020
Administrators this fall must be ready to respond to scenarios, such as closing a school if there a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, adjusting the school calendar to accommodate social distancing, and ensuring all students have access to technology.(GettyImages.com/izusek)Administrators this fall must be ready to respond to a range of scenarios, such as closing a school if there a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, adjusting the school calendar to accommodate social distancing, and ensuring all students have access to technology.(GettyImages.com/izusek)

A broad coalition of leading education organizations representing superintendents and teachers on Thursday released a wide-ranging guide for reopening schools with a focus on safety, equity and funding.

The National Labor Management Partnership coalition—which includes National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, AASA – The School Superintendents’ Association, the National School Boards Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers—is calling on education officials to collaborate with teachers, parents and community stakeholders as decisions are made this summer on how to spend funds to reopen schools safely.

Administrators in the fall must be ready to respond to scenarios, such as closing a school if there a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, adjusting the school calendar to accommodate social distancing, and ensuring all students have access to technology should a need for remote learning arise.

“Opening schools post-COVID is about so much more than just opening doors,” Daniel A. Domenech, AASA’s executive director, says in the report. “The only way we succeed is if educators—teachers, principals, board members, and superintendents—work collaboratively to ensure a safe and healthy learning environment for staff and students. ”


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The guide offers a “collaboration matrix” superintendents and their teams can follow over the summer. The first step is to create a COVID-19 task force comprising key leaders, including administrators, teacher’s union officials, PTA leaders and other community members.

The task force could then form working groups—each lead by an administrator and a teacher—to identify needs and challenges in areas such as public health,operations, teaching and learning and equity.

The report then covers the key questions each working group would have to answer, including:

Public health and social-emotional support

  • How will a school conduct COVID screening measures such as temperature checks and mandatory testing?
  • What will happen when a student or staff member tests positive?
  • What number of illnesses would trigger closing a school?
  • Is there sufficient personal protective equipment to protect educators?
  • How will school leaders set aside time during the first week of re-opening for students and educators to grieve, heal and re-connect?

School operations and logistics

  • How can class sizes be reduced to accommodate social distancing?
  • Could split scheduling—such as alternating days of the week or times of day—be a feasible strategy? What additional space (mobile classrooms, etc.) would a school need?
  • How will the district decrease the number of students on school buses, or limit students’ use of public transit?
  • How will student contact at lunch and recess be minimized?
  • How will schools modify fine arts, performing arts and physical education classes?

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Teaching and learning

  • Did online and remote learning meet the needs of educators, students and families? Which students were unable or unwilling to participate?
  • What are the district’s expectations for in-person instruction, online face-to-face instruction and independent learning time?
  • Will students have opportunities to interact with classmates?
  • What assessments and data will teachers use to track student progress without taking away valuable and limited instructional time?
  • What guidance will the district provide educators about how to review, revise, and/or meet the IEP of students with disabilities.

Equity and community Needs

  • How will racial equity be addressed during conversations about re-opening schools?
  • How will we provide 1-to-1 device ratios?
  • What partnerships or programs might increase students’ and educators’ access to home broadband internet capable of multiple video feeds?
  • How can the food services most effectively switch back and forth between in-school and remote models?
  • What are the plans for clubs, sports, and other after- school enrichment that parents often rely on?

“We participate in the NLMP because we know that there are district superintendents and school boards that genuinely want decisions to be informed by educators’ knowledge and expertise,” wrote NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcìa in an email to state leaders. “This document is unique in that it focuses not only on the joint decisions to be made, but on how.”

“COVID-19 has upended our lives in so many ways, further exposing the inequities in our society and completely rearranging schooling for students, families, educators,
administrators and parents alike,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten says in the report. “We believe the question on reopening is not whether, but when and how we can reopen our schools safely and responsibly in a way that puts health and wellbeing paramount.”


Read or download the full report below.