Reopening Schools Safely in California: District Examples of Multilayered MitigationSince August, schools across California have reopened for in-person learning, undertaking the challenging but crucial work of ensuring student safety. The state has enacted several first-in-the-nation public health policies to support safe school reopening, such as a renewed mask mandate for schools and offering resources to support free, school-based testing and vaccine clinics. With these and other public health policies in place, California’s COVID-19 case rate has steadily declined since mid-August. As of September 20, 2021, the state had the lowest case rate in the nation.
In order to build trust with families to return to in-person learning, they suggest:
• Communicate frequently with families – in their home language – and work to build their confidence that children will be safe in-person; • Encourage and provide access to vaccinations for eligible students and staff; • Implement COVID-19 testing in schools; • Address ventilation needs where applicable; • Implement universal indoor masking; • Maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms to reduce transmission risk. Because of the importance of in-person learning, schools should implement physical distancing to the extent possible within their structures, but should not exclude students from in-person learning to keep a minimum distance requirement. When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet, such as when schools cannot fully reopen while maintaining these distances, it is especially important to layer multiple other prevention strategies, such as screening testing; • Provide safe transportation; • Provide affordable child care; and • Ensure access to healthy meals and other basic needs
This post is part of LPI’s Learning in the Time of COVID-19blog series, which explores evidence-based and equity-focused strategies and investments to address the current crisis and build long-term systems capacity.
School buildings are closed for nearly all of the country’s 50.8 million public school students, and those being hit the hardest are the nation’s most marginalized students—more than 52% in 2016–17. For these students, school closures can mean the loss not only of precious learning time but also of essential services such as meals and medical and mental health services that mitigate the stresses of poverty.
But there are schools that continue to support student learning and well-being—among them, community schools. The country’s community schools are designed to serve the whole child (addressing learning and well-being) and are based on the understanding that children are better positioned to learn when they are healthy, well fed, and safe. The United States has thousands of community schools serving millions of students already. Among these schools, 2,300 are part of the nonprofit network Communities in Schools. The nonprofit Coalition for Community Schools network supports some 5,000 community schools across the country.
Although there are other schools around the country that use some of the strategies of community schools and have also successfully responded to student and family needs, community schools are unique in that they have formalized and powered up these supports around four “pillars”—medical and mental services, extended learning time, family and community engagement, and collaborative leadership among staff. They hire dedicated staff such as community schools coordinators to organize services for students and families through partnerships with nonprofit and government organizations, including health clinics, food banks, tutoring, and after-school programs. As we begin to rebuild and rethink schooling, this is a highly effective, research-based approach that policymakers can look to.As we begin to rebuild and rethink schooling, [community schools are] a highly effective, research-based approach that policymakers can look to.
Because community schools prioritize relationships with family members—often offering social services and classes for parents and guardians—they were already deeply rooted in their students’ lives and had relationships and infrastructures in place when COVID-19 hit that enabled them to mobilize support services and connect with their students and families meaningfully and quickly. (continued)
Across the United States, state education agencies and school districts face daunting challenges and difficult decisions for restarting schools as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. As state and district leaders prepare for what schooling will look like in 2020 and beyond, there is an opportunity to identify evidence-based policies and practices that will enable them to seize this moment to rethink school in ways that can transform learning opportunities for students and teachers alike. Our current system took shape almost exactly a century ago, when school designs and funding were established to implement mass education on an assembly-line model organized to prepare students for their “places in life”—judgments that were enacted within contexts of deep-seated racial, ethnic, economic, and cultural prejudices. In a historical moment when we have more knowledge about human development and learning, when society and the economy demand a more challenging set of skills, and when—at least in our rhetoric—there is a greater social commitment to equitable education, it is time to use the huge disruptions caused by this pandemic to reinvent our systems of education. The question is: How we can harness these understandings as we necessarily redesign school? How can we transform what has not been working for children and for our society into a more equitable and empowering future? This report provides an overarching framework that focuses on how policymakers as well as educators can support equitable, effective teaching and learning regardless of the medium through which that takes place. This framework provides research, state and local examples, and policy recommendations in 10 key areas that speak both to transforming learning and to closing opportunity and achievement gaps. It illustrates how policymakers and educators can:
Establish community schools and wraparound supports
Prepare educators for reinventing school
Leverage more adequate and equitable school funding
Each of these 10 policy priorities will help schools reinvent themselves around principles of equity, authentic learning, and stronger relationships, and they require shifts from policymakers and educators alike.
Parents and Teachers Want to See Big Changes Come Out of the Pandemic, Survey Says
As many students return to in-person instruction after staying at home for much of the 2020-21 academic year, parents and teachers alike are hoping school itself will look different, with more opportunity for smaller classes and personalized attention for students.
What’s more, the majority of both parents and teachers are eager for kids to go back to in-person schooling full-time this fall, according to a survey released this week by a civil rights education and a learning nonprofit organization.
Both groups also understand it’s not going to be easy. Ninety percent of teachers and 61 percent of parents surveyed last month are expecting big challenges as children head back to in-person classrooms. Academic development was a top concern, with 73 percent of respondents listing it as number one in a survey conducted last month by Understood, a non-profit that works on behalf of children with learning and thinking differences, and UnidosUS, an organization that works on behalf of Latinos.