This Straight, No Chaser looks at challenges and guidelines for returning to school. First, here are two questions for your consideration. What would happen if all college students were asked to take a gap year during the 2020-21 academic year? Is that a better or worse scenario than accepting the risk of sending kids and young adults back to mass gatherings in the midst of a pandemic?
How Can We Come to the Right Decision?Somewhere in between Notre Dame announcing a return to school schedule and Oxford University deciding that all of this academic year’s classes will be done online is where most schools will end up. However, what’s the right decision for you and your family? Colleges and universities are rather expensive. The college experience, inclusive of athletics, club activities, fraternities and sororities, is an important part of the equation. Most of that will be (should be) gone for the upcoming academic year. Even efforts to create a sense of normalcy are fraught with risk. Doesn’t the entire “go back to school thing” include a massive assumption that the pandemic environment will improve by the fall moving into the winter? Where is the evidence for that? Are you willing to accept that risk? At what financial cost? Aren’t schools about the easiest way you can imagine to rapidly extend and expand an infectious disease? Keep in mind that the presence of just one case will likely cause any given school to again shutter its doors. Remember, the issue isn’t that the students are at advanced risk for death. The issue is teachers, support staff and family members within proximity of commuter students may be.
CDC Guidelines for Returning to School
Even so, in acknowledging America’s ill-advised rush to return to normal, the CDC has put forth a list of 11 guidelines, all of which must be met before a school should even consider reopening.
Items to first consider
- Will reopening be consistent with state and local orders?
- Can the school protect children and employees at higher risk for severe illness?
- Can students and employees be screened upon arrival for symptoms and history of exposure?
Are recommended health and safety actions in place?
- Are capabilities for healthy hygiene practice in place?
- Has the school intensified cleaning, disinfection and ventilation?
- Are social distancing measures feasible and implemented?
- Are employees trained on health and safety protocols?
- Have measures for ongoing monitoring but put in place?
- Are procedures to check signs and symptoms of students and employees on a daily basis in place?
Are procedures to have the sick stay at home in place?
- Is there a regular communication strategy to engage students, employees, families and local authorities in place?
- Are monitoring and student leave policies in place as needed?
- Are coordination and communication strategies in place with local health authorities?
What to Do?
See, this is a high bar to reach, and it should be. Implementing these guidelines will be a Herculean task for any school, much less for all schools. It is foreseeable that the better course of action leans toward an emphasis on the educational component of school and less on the social component. Accordingly, the best reopening strategies will focus more on at a distance learning components than the more familiar in person scenarios. The very last thing any of us needs is a national panic based on a reemergence of the disease, based on seeding at schools and colleges. COVID-19 doesn’t care about your frustration or other priorities. Remember, the most likely of the optimistic scenarios is that a COVID-19 vaccine will be available during the summer of 2021. Until then, our actions will most likely worsen the situation, resulting in additional lives lost. Choices have consequences. Choose wisely.