School districts weigh options for opening this fall

Posted at 1:59 PM, May 12, 2020

As the school year winds down to a close, districts are already planning for remote learning summer school and deciding whether school will be open as normal in the fall.

"We have made the decision that we’re opening school in the fall. We’re going to open as scheduled. The question at hand is what does school look like in the fall," said Dr. Mike Looney, superintendent of Fulton County Schools in Georgia.

Looney’s school district has roughly 100,000 students. The district has three possible plans for the next school year: open as normal, continue remote learning or some combination of the two.

"Where perhaps we still have some social distancing standards in place we have to adhere to,” said Dr. Looney. “Where we have segments of student populations coming at different days so that not all students are in the building all at once. So, we’re planning for three different scenarios.”

As many schools prepare to close for the summer, students are heading back to their classrooms and lockers one last time to retrieve their belongings. They’re packing up during what has been a tough time for many children. Some parents, while they understand the necessity to stay at home amid the coronavirus pandemic, are anxious for their kids to be back in the classroom.

"My, my youngest is getting burned out," said parent Whitney Bowles. "My seventh-grader has a lot of important material to cover. They are nowhere near emotionally and socially developed to be able to handle this quantity of information."

Dr. Looney says that while teachers, parents and students have done a tremendous job working together to educate during this unprecedented time, there still has been a lot of learning lost.

"And while they're making gains, they’re not making gains at the same rate that they otherwise would have, so we're recognizing that and we’re making plans accordingly," said Dr. Looney.

He believes students and teachers will be working to recover from the loss throughout this next school and into the next summer.

Jonathan Cooper, the superintendent of Mason City Schools in Ohio, says their district is turning to parents, the business community and health experts to help educators in their decision to open in the fall. They'll start with focus groups and surveys.

"Whether they’re parents or health professionals, along with educators to go through and build a prototype and probably multiple prototypes, and then we’ll bring that to the business community and find out do these prototypes actually support the restart of our economy and our region," said Cooper.

A return to school could include personal protective equipment for educators, social distancing guidelines and much more. The COVID-19 pandemic is also prompting districts to take a look at their digital back-up plans in case a shelter-in-place order should happen again.

"I think our teachers have done an amazing job shifting into this world. If you told them at the beginning of the year they would all be delivering remote learning, I don’t think they would think it's possible to do it that quickly. Now, do we have a lot of room to grow in that? I think we’d all agree, yes," said Cooper.

Plus, he says they'll also want to create a remote learning plan for some families who students are medically vulnerable and may need to stay home, regardless if schools physically open their doors to families this fall.