How to Keep Safety in Mind as Schools Return to Full Time in Person Learning
Perhaps one of the hardest hit industries by the pandemic has been education. Students are returning to in-person classes, but the effects of the pandemic will be felt in the education sector for years to come. A sense of normalcy is starting to materialize, but safety concerns are still top of mind for school admins and parents. In fact, a survey from the American Council on Education in 2020 found that, unsurprisingly, safety relating to COVID-19 was the most pressing concern for college and university presidents. The pandemic has changed education for good. Here’s how.
Technology-Enhanced Learning, Hybrid Learning and More Student Choice
Mode of instruction has obviously seen a massive shift over the course of the pandemic, with many schools forced to pivot to online learning due to necessity. Others have adopted a hybrid learning approach, which combines some in-person instruction with online learning. At many schools, students are given the option to take online or in-person classes, giving them more choice on how they want to be educated. Students now have more flexibility, and school administrators have more methods to deliver courses to students. Even as students flock back to traditional in-person instruction, a lot of the methods necessitated by the pandemic have become mainstream. Both students and admins alike can appreciate the benefits that come with growing technology use - an increase in tech in education gives admins more flexibility, and students more choice.
Design for safety
When students walk back in to class for the first time, things are going to be very different from when they last were in the classroom. Schools have opted for smaller class sizes, changed desk arrangements, added plexiglass and other barriers, and increased space and breathability to accommodate social distancing. Another huge design change for this school year and moving forward is the importance of ventilation. Government health officials and occupational safety experts claim that ventilation is among the most important measures schools can take to mitigate risk of contracting an airborne disease like COVID-19. Schools are undergoing massive systemic change, and class design and layout are not exceptions.
School admins simply have a lot on their plate. All these sweeping changes have spawned all sorts of mandates, guidelines and protocols to follow. School admins have an obligation to know their stuff, and that means sticking to existing protocols, following state and federal mandates, and contacting the CDC and Department of Education constantly for new information. Beyond following the rules, school administrators have had to be active on the ground level too. Sanitization has, unsurprisingly, been taken up a notch. Schools should be stocked up on masks, hand sanitizer, wipes, and other disinfectant supplies as they should be doing everything in their power to mitigate risk. On top of this, random testing has become the norm. 20% of students and staff in all school buildings are tested weekly for COVID. The United States is one of the few countries that has closed schools to the extent that we have, and continued adherence to cleaning and containment protocols, screenings and public and federal mandates is undoubtedly the road forward.
Continued vigilance, adaptation and planning
We’re not out of the woods yet, and overcoming these enormous challenges won’t come without steady vigilance, agile adaptation, and extensive and dynamic planning. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIAID (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) posits that “we’ve gotta not declare victory prematurely… we’re in the bottom of the 6th inning [in the fight against COVID.]” Adaptation has been a massive part of the pandemic, and it’s best we get used to these things before we get tired of them. Educators have done an admirable job keeping up with protocols, mandates, and screenings, but continued planning is absolutely critical as we move towards the later stages of the pandemic. In fact, planning has been a major flaw in education’s response to the pandemic, as “most school districts and an even higher percentage of non-public schools had either no written plans or very weak plans prior to the COVID outbreak.” But even having a plan in place is not enough on its own. Perhaps even more important than having a plan is constantly changing it as new and pressing information comes to light. Ironing out these plans (and sticking to them) will be imperative as schools work to get over the hump in the final stages of the pandemic.