Students at Harvest Best Academy in Minneapolis with masks and plastic barriers. David Joles | Star Tribune

We’re Back in Session: The Latest in Reopening Schools

School is back and while not all districts across the nation have completely reopened, there are several schools that have experienced the new ‘school’ normal amid this pandemic. With several school districts opting in for in-person learning or a hybrid version, new safety and sanitizing protocols have been put into place to minimize any health risks. It is imperative to have a procedure in place for times like this, but is it truly possible to plan for something we haven’t experienced before?

“‘You get in a mode where you ask yourself, Am I doing the right thing?’ said Thaynan Knowlton, superintendent of the Clarkston School District, a small district close to Idaho, which is opening for in-person learning Wednesday. ‘I don’t know. We’re just moving as carefully as we can, not knowing what tomorrow’s going to hold.’” according to the Seattle Times. 

It’s safe to assume that many schools are going in blind and aren’t really sure what to expect when opening their doors to in-person learning. As we start the month of September, we know of several districts across the nation that have initiated classes and have had to enforce their newly made health and safety policies. So what’s happening after schools reopen?

For many schools, their reopening procedures seem to be working just fine, however, you won’t hear of those schools in the headlines. You will see schools having to shut down just as quickly as they reopened.. 

Schools in several states, including Indiana, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Georgia, closed to in-person learning this month after students and staffers tested positive for Covid-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, sending thousands into quarantine and remote learning. Several superintendents working to reopen schools also have tested positive, and at least one has died. The campuses are shutting down to in-person learning indefinitely or for a couple of days for deep cleanings,” wrote Tawnell Hobbs from the Wall Street Journal. 

Did we reopen our schools way too soon? Should we have waited until our nationwide transmission rates reached a low?

As claimed by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on national health issues, “most countries that have reopened schools have not experienced outbreaks but almost all have had significantly lower rates of community transmission than the U.S. and higher testing and contact tracing capacity.” School reopening success in other countries could directly be attributed to the low number of community transmission rates. Greater testing, contact tracing capacity and a period of complete lockdown have helped keep other countries from any outbreaks so far. This is not to say that they are out of the water completely, but when is it time to go back to a sense of normalcy?

Additionally, some experts believe that it is more of a disservice to have students miss out on the traditional educational experience than the risk of spreading COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site, “the harms attributed to closed schools on the social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children, in both the short- and long-term, are well-known and significant. Further, the lack of in-person educational options disproportionately harms low-income and minority children and those living with disabilities.” It is said that, aside from a student’s home life, school is one of the most influential environments in a child’s life. 

While speculation is abundant there isn’t an absolute right and wrong when proposing the reopening of our schools. The world is making adjustments in the dark and formulating decisions based on a situation we haven’t experienced in our lifetime. “Opening safely, experts agree, isn’t just about the adjustments a school makes. It’s also about how much virus is circulating in the community, which affects the likelihood that students and staff will bring COVID-19 into their classrooms.‘Outbreaks in schools are inevitable,’ says Otto Helve, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare. ‘But there is good news.’ So far, with some changes to schools’ daily routines, he says, the benefits of attending school seem to outweigh the risk,” according to Science magazine. 

The truth is that we are all trying to do our best during a rough time. We don’t have all the answers but the overall goal is to keep our students and community safe while trying to keep them from falling behind in their educational goals. It’s all a balancing act and reopening schools can be a step towards normalcy. While things may look different in today’s world, we are constantly learning, growing and adjusting as necessary. We are resilient enough to make changes and adapt to the challenges that face us.