Pre COVID-19, those late June early July back to school ads would start a little tingle of anticipation in the hearts and minds of students and educators. Now, for many, that tingle is replaced with chills of dread because of too many unanswered questions.
By July 1, each Iowa school district must submit to the Iowa Department of Education a “Return to learn Plan.” A safe, sane return will only happen if the entire education community is involved with both the questions and the answers.
Iowa farmers are familiar with plowing new ground and then hitting hidden rocks. Now, the new ground to be plowed is by Iowa schools as they try to begin again during a pandemic. It is something new, and something that will take the whole education village to pull off.
I know the common goal is to keep students and educators safe and at the same time to deliver quality instruction. That will come with a lot of those hidden rocks, a little trial and error, and a needed substantial increase in school funding.
But as Iowa starts school again, we need to extend grace to one another, because there will be mistakes made and conditions will have to change as the ebb and flow of the virus changes.
School districts can’t rely on guidance from the federal government or even the state. Both the president and our governor want to shut their eyes and use hope as a strategy to wish the virus away by the first bell of school. It won’t happen.
Right now, local school districts are making decisions that will impact education. Many will host community meetings. Some also will initiate surveys, and still others will publish a completed strategy after July 1 written behind closed doors with little or no input.
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So, in the spirit of the old game “Twenty Questions,” here are 20 questions that may or may not be answered but certainly need to be asked. The winner will be the “Return to Learn plan” that can answer all 20 and keep students and staff safe.
1. How will lunch periods be handled?
2. How will transition from class to class be handled?
3. Will students and staff be screened before entering the building?
4. If students ride a bus, will they be screened before boarding the bus?
5. If they have a fever, what protocol would a bus driver use?
6. Will admittance to the buildings be limited to only staff and students?
7. Will large classes be divided for social distancing?
8. Specifically, how will music, art and PE be handled?
9. Will you require masks or face shields for everyone in the building?
10. How will assignments be turned in and reviewed by the teacher?
11. If parents choose not to send their children, will there be an online learning available?
12. What type of cleaning regiment will be used?
13. If a student or an educator has COVID-19 symptoms, will there be mandatory testing and quarantining?
14. How will contact tracing be done?
15. If a student’s family or a staff member’s family test positive, what steps will be taken so the district is informed, but HIPPA is not violated?
16. If one student or staff member in a class tests positive, will the whole class be quarantined?
17. Who will provide and pay for the PPE for staff members and for students?
18. What type of accommodations will be made for students with disabilities?
19. How will extracurricular activities like dances and assemblies be handled?
20. What will be the metric for closing again?
Schools won’t open safely and sanely if the public listens to politicians more than medical professionals, or if the plans aren’t comprehensive and transparent with all voices heard. Schools will be safe when “community” is more than the middle name of every public school and we truly work together.
Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and retired after 38 years of being connected to public schools. He was a teacher for eleven years and a regional director for Iowa State Education Association the last 27 years. He grew up in Shellsburg, Iowa. BruceLear2419@gmail.com