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10 Areas That Districts Need to Focus on Post COVID19

By Dr. Jay Eitner

We all know that we are in times that we’ve never experienced. The isolation. The uncertainty. The academic teaching at home by some of those who are not in the profession. Globally, we have also come to terms that in moving forward, our lives will be changed in all capacities, including education.

Our nation has recently been reminded just how vital schools really are. Families and communities need schools to be ready to reopen as soon as public health officials signal that it is safe. Schools are fasteners for students with their peers, harness their energy into academic enrichment, and provide parents the ability to participate in the workplace. Hence, opening our school doors in a safe manner for students, families, and the community will involve challenges that we have not faced before. It is paramount that school administration and their Boards of Education begin planning at once.

Adapting to the setbacks of COVID gives schools a chance to fully utilize educational technology and establish community partnerships. This is a moment when school districts must harness ways to ensure that children get back to their daily routine as much as possible. There are 10 areas where educational stakeholders must focus on for that to happen, and that work should have started yesterday. The following are areas that need immediate attention in order to move onward:

• Digital Equity. The topic of digital equity has been kicked around for years, as equity in education has been an issue since public education’s inception. We have seen the digital pitfalls first-hand, ranging from gathering at a fast-food restaurant to use the WiFi down to students who try to maximize time in the library. When the 2020-21 school year opens, there should be a clear path to ensure every child not only has a device to use but also has WiFi capability. There are several national companies that will help you eliminate the divide. Check out EveryoneOn.org – you can get both hotspots and refurbished computers, tablets, and Chromebooks starting at $50.00. The WIFI will be free to all those with a hotspot using 3G, as all cell phone companies are mandated to provide such.  

• A solid yet realistic distant learning plan. Districts from around the country went from 0-mph to 100-mph insofar as distant learning plan implementation. While some districts were working on this for years, other districts (often less wealthy or with leadership that is not pro-technology) tried to piecemeal a plan within days. Districts need to develop clear protocols to address future closures. As districts plan for reopening, they need to recognize that rolling closures may occur should the pandemic resurface. The plan must include all stakeholders and it must be clear who will make such a determination and how the decision-making process will work. Once districts reopen, there will be copious amounts of sharing experiences (both positive and negative) in which districts will be able to grow, learn, and move onward.  

• Vaping. Scads of research show that vaping, both in and out of school, is still on the rise, even in the COVID era. Students are stressed and bored and are now experimenting at elevated rates. Schools must be ready to provide immediate and long-term plans to address the issue while both educating about the dangers of vaping, and issuing consequences for vaping on school grounds. Technology has amassed in such a way that vape detectors can be installed in schools. I recommend you check out Soter Technologies and their vape detector. As always, safety needs to be the most important component of school.

• SEL and suicide awareness. We are seeing an uptick of suicide while the lockdowns remain in place. We are also seeing additional requests for assistance with students and staff experiencing SEL issues. A vibrant, solid SEL program is recommended to be enacted in character education classes or health classes. School counselors will be paramount in checking on both the wellbeing of students and staff. Additionally, should schools close again for an indefinite amount of time, there should be weekly SEL check-ins in place so help can be provided to those who seek it. This can be accomplished by creating a google form where adults can enter the request for themselves or their students. The form should also be accessible by parents.  

• Meals for all those in need, without shaming. Lunch shaming has been a hot topic around the country. Districts from coast to coast were catapulted into the spotlight for limiting food or activities as a consequence of outstanding lunch debt. When COVID first broke, we saw Superintendents around the country on the front line packing and delivering boxes of food. Delivering meals should be more than a photo opportunity. A partnership should be developed between the districts’ food services department and local supermarkets to enact a plan for meal delivery or pickup.

• Vertical curriculum articulation. While most districts are partaking in distant learning in some capacity, it’s still unknown if the curriculum is being followed in a way that students will be able to transition into the following year successfully. It will be essential that teachers and curriculum supervisors sit down together as teams and engage in vertical articulation. While some subjects may be easier to transition (electives, literature, history), some subjects (math, foreign language, perhaps science) will require specific cut off & pick up points to cease long term ramifications. It’s also recommended that in future distant learning plans, each subject eliminates any unnecessary academic instruction so that the essentials remain, and students can move to the next grade level with ease. 

• Relevant professional development for teachers. Meaningful professional development is crucial for a smooth and steady opening. Topics will range from comprehensive communication plans for staff and students to a ‘town hall’ format so employees can describe what worked and what didn’t. Allowing staff to ‘vent’ will help grow a stronger bond amongst with district employees and allow safe and positive collaboration space. We can all learn from each other from this unfathomable experience.

• Consistent communication for all stakeholders. School re-openings will require persevering efforts to communicate with all educational stakeholders, as a reopening plan will be mute if the stakeholders are not confident about the measures in place. It’s 2020; there is no excuse for not meeting stakeholders where they are. This could be a myriad of social media channels to the good ole’ fashioned mailed letter to parents. Communication should include how schools will open pertaining to the wellbeing and safety of students and staff as well as any modifications to schedules, classes, and/or logistics. Successful communication will keep confusion and chaos to a modicum.

• Nursing and/or telehealth services for all schools. Now more than ever, each school building should have a healthcare professional, or a telehealth station set up in each school. We have seen the uptick of telehealth during COVID, and a pop-up of several telehealth companies as a result. I have seen telehealth stations in several schools and school districts; one principal called it an “educational blessing and gamechanger.” Secretaries, who are already the Jill / Jack of all trades, no longer have to play Doctor. Some telehealth stations even offer prescriptions to be cut on the spot.

• Holding board of education meetings virtually when need be.  During this time, all policy and regulation adaption needs to be flexible to coincide with the crisis at hand. COVID has already shown that recognizable policies and regulations are ill-suited for the challenges schools currently face or will face. Given the likeliness that reopened schools will have decisions made pertaining to scheduling and staffing, there will be scenarios where the usual policies and regulations do not make sense. Policymakers on all levels will need to create processes that allow flexibility. Schools themselves will also need the increased flexibility to acquire educational resources. Such policies and regulations should reduce paperwork in order to get learning resources to staff and students for the duration of a crisis.

While COVID has altered our educational universe, it does not have to derail it. As we gradually get back to our new normal, allocating time to the concepts above will help all educational stakeholders grow, learn, and move onward so that we are ready to prevail in any future educational crisis.

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