The Centers for Disease (CDC) released new guidelines for “Opening America Up Again” May 20, and the section that recommends measures for opening schools has raised questions.
“There are numerous factors to consider but the biggest obstacle will be transportation,” said Amy Smith, Mount Union Area School District superintendent.
The guidelines recommend staggering arrival and drop-off times, as well as creating social distance between children on school buses. An example given is seating children one per seat and every other row.
“While the other guidelines will require a lot of planning and attention to detail, adhering to the transportation guidelines, as it is specifically recommended that we, “seat children one child per row, skip rows,” would take hours to transport the students to their respective buildings,” said Smith.
Smith said she has been in communication with other county superintendents online for weeks now to strategize about the best path forward to reopen for each district.
Other guidelines include closing “dining halls” and “game rooms,” minimizing mixing students and teachers when possible, limiting gatherings and extracurricular activities to those who can maintain social distancing, keeping desks six feet apart and wearing masks throughout the day.
While these measures may be difficult to maintain, Smith said it’s what’s needed for in-person instruction.
“In regards to student expectations, it will be difficult to continually ensure all students adhere to the CDC distancing guidelines at the various grade levels, especially elementary students. However, we will need to ensure our students are following the mandated guidelines so we can provide educational opportunities within the brick and mortar classroom rather than continuing with online learning at home,” she said.
Fred Foster, superintendent for Huntingdon Area School District, welcomed the expert input.
“Honestly, without the guidance I think we’d all be spinning our wheels,” he said. “It’s a guide, a good recommended guide. They (CDC) follow international studies and we certainly need the guidance. We’ve got a lot of questions, and we’re starting to think about next year. Our goal is to create a small task force to get ready over the summer months.”
Transportation is also an issue for Foster.
“Getting students on the bus, what’s that going to look like? And how many can we get on the bus?” asked Foster.
Some recommended measures, such as taking the temperature of students and staff upon entering a school, will require a financial investment from the school districts.
“We’ll have to look at how this is going to shift our budget. Everyone has a trusted expectation of keeping safe in school.” said Foster.
Dwayne Northcraft, superintendent for Southern Huntingdon County School District, said that, “Some of these measures would cause us to spend quite a bit more money,” but noted that the new guidelines haven’t come as a surprise.
“These are things we’ve talked about for some time,” he said. “It’s new info in that it’s packaged and formalized, but it’s not something we haven’t heard about. Where we’re at in southern Huntingdon is we are working on our remote learning plan...I know for certain whether things return to where they were before this pandemic, regardless we know we want to have remote learning capabilities with our families,” he said.
“I think what you’ll see is a lot of these concerns intensify late June and early July. The point being we’ll still have two months to prepare for this new landscape,” said Northcraft.
Nathan can be reached at email@example.com.