Coronavirus & Education: How Are Educators Supposed to Predict Pandemic Conditions in the Fall?



A teacher washes her hands inside a classroom at Ysgol Hafan Y Mor school, as schools in Tenby, Wales, June 29, 2020. (Rebecca Naden/Reuters)

A point to add to yesterday’s discussion about the complicated logistics of reopening schools in the autumn: Right now, across the country, school boards and school administrators are trying to figure out what plan would serve the kids best and be the safest . . . while being unable to predict what the local conditions for the pandemic will be in September and beyond.

The right course of action might look really different if your community looks like Weston County, Wyo. — which has had one case so far in this pandemic — or if it looks like Orange County, Calif. — which had more than 1,500 new cases yesterday, bringing their total so far to more than 21,000. A plan to continue distance learning and keep all the kids at home will look excessively cautious if cases are low or rare; a plan to bring in the kids in any capacity might look excessively risky if the surrounding community is having an outbreak.

In my neck of the woods, parents are being asked to choose between two options. The first consists of two days a week of in-person school, two days of virtual learning . . . and the fifth day of the week is allegedly going to be independent learning. (“I’m studying geological engineering by playing Minecraft, Dad!”) The other option is the all-online learning that was not exactly a sterling success this spring. Fairfax County Public Schools currently says that once parents select an option, they will not be able to switch, unless the school district changes to go entirely with one option or another based upon conditions.

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This “no changes” policy is so unworkable, I’m not even going to get upset about it. If there’s another big wave of cases around here, some parents who picked the in-person option are going to want to switch to online-only; if the cases dwindle down to almost none, parents who picked the online-only option will want their kids to get back into the classroom.

The old saying that “no plan survives contact with the enemy” applies to education and pandemics. Every plan is tentative and adjustable and will have to be adjusted based upon changing circumstances. You have to wonder if the tension surrounding which plan to implement amounts to wasted energy, when it is so likely that the plan will have to be changed as the school year progresses, anyway.


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