Reopening: No Easy Answers

Empty Classroom Chairs

“The idea of having treatments available or a vaccine to facilitate the re-entry of students into the fall term would be something that would be a bit of a bridge too far,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top American infectious disease expert.

Schools in the Northern Hemisphere are starting to wind down for summer break. Yet there already are discouraging signs clouding hopes of a return to class in the fall.  At least in the North American setting, Fauci’s “bridge too far” comment suggests that while students in areas with low infection rates can expect to go back to school next academic year, those in infection hotspots may have to wait a while longer. 

As I speak with students, I get the distinct impression that many would like to return to school.  It’s true. Whether or not they are able to return, and what the in-class experience is like, will likely depend on where in the world you are located. Schools such as Quebec’s Bishop’s College School are aiming to welcome students to campus in September. In Ontario, the Ministry of Education is currently planning for a return but warns that schools will be different.

While some would prefer to keep schools closed for the remainder of the year to help contain the virus, there are concerns of potential harm to kids in other ways, especially to those who need psychological and educational support, or who can’t access material online.

Lessons from around the world

Schools are reopening across Europe. Once students arrive they will find a different place than then one they left.  New hygiene measures will be a notable change. Schools across the continent are introducing “… strict hand washing and disinfection regimes, physical distancing and the demarcation of playgrounds into zones to ensure pupils do not mix more than necessary.” Other changes may be related to the curriculum.  For example, in Germany, sport and music lessons have temporarily been removed from the curriculum because they are considered high risk activities. French lower secondary schools may only open in areas of low infection rates.  To facilitate social distancing, classes will be limited to 15 students, and procedures will be put in place to avoid overcrowding in high traffic areas.

School openings don’t always go according to plan. In Korea, more than 250 schools were forced to close in Bucheon just days after reopening due to spikes in recorded cases. A further 117 schools in Seoul and 182 in Gumi postponed their reopening.  A series of infections among students prompted parents and teachers to urge the government to delay the reopening.

Schools around the globe seem to be providing families the option to choose whether or not students take classes in person. “We will take every measure we can to make the school safe,” said Richard Vanderpyl, head of school at Christian Alliance International School in Hong Kong. “But if parents are still uncomfortable, they can keep their children home. We will provide resources for those students.”

What does this mean for you?

The Korean case suggests that families will need to consider the possibility that quick shifts to remote learning may be required due to COVID-19 outbreaks. In locations considered to be virus hot spots, online learning may be the medium of instruction at least for the start of the new academic year.

Given the uneven quality in content delivery and teaching, you may want to have a family discussions to find out whether or not additional tutoring is required over the summer months. And, of course, given that remote learning is a possibility until a vaccine is found, it would also be worthwhile to speak with your school’s administrators to learn more about their contingency plans for next year.

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