The day the schools don't reopen: A workplace perspective

  • Jim Morgan

    Jim Morgan

Posted8/13/2020 1:00 AM

I wrote an article this spring about the stresses of being a CEO, contrasting the elaborate lifestyles featured on television with the reality of making decisions every day that affect the health and well-being of five, 50 or 500 employees. At the time, I was thinking about health care benefits, compensation, location selection, productivity, and supply chain management. But, schooling?

Welcome to "Back-to-School 2020"


In talking with my school administrator friends, they are looking at a full comeback, 100% virtual and/or hybrid models that include half the students every other week, one-fifth the students every day, elementary students in-person and older students virtually, and a host of other options.

Considerations they are really struggling with:

• Busing. Transportation drives everything in a school district. How do you transport one-third of the kids at a time? Social distancing will require three bus trips to get everyone to their destination.

• Space. Six feet of distancing takes a classroom that held 30 down to about 10. Where do you put the other 20? And who supervises them? One class of 30 now needs three classrooms and three teachers.

• Teacher absences and the substitute teacher shortage. If even one teacher tests positive or is exposed, odds are there will be at least a handful of other teachers that were in close contact. Losing five or six teachers for two to three days while they await test results, or worse are quarantined for 14 days, would effectively close the school.

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• Social distancing. Corralling and spacing 10-year-olds means you will need different arrival times, different lunch times, different recess times, different departure times, and more supervisors.

So, if those issues are keeping school leaders up at night, they ought to be keeping CEOs and HR professionals up as well. As go the children, so go the parents! The good news is, many employers are getting ahead of the game -- before they even know the rules -- by keeping a close eye on local and state decisions around school reopening. Here are a handful of ideas employers are considering, or already enacting, as they try to maintain productivity and employee health.

Work hours:

• Offer Saturday and Sunday shifts to replace weekday shifts

• Offer evening shifts

• Make longer shifts, so fewer days

• Shifts that align with school schedules

• More flexibility

Cross-train employees

• Switch to more part-time employees

• Pandemic emergency child care leave

• Backup child care benefits including additional "emergency stipends," employers making direct child care payments for employees, and assisting with child-care placement


• Offer on-site and near-site child care

• Utilize or paying membership fees for concierge services like Cariloop or babysitting services like UrbanSitter to help employees find child care

• Set up day care matching for employees -- I take your kids; you take my kids -- via social media or on the company's intranet

• Match weekly schedules to school schedules

• Offer more remote work

• Relax attendance policies

• Paid family leave (not all employers were covered by FFCRA)

It seems like we have been saying this for months, but these truly are unprecedented times that require unprecedented responses. Proactive, creative thinking is the answer. MRA recommends you have plans ready, have access to efficient communications to get your changing messages out to your employees, and research the technology needed now to be ready for what still lies ahead.

• Jim Morgan is Vice President, Business Development & Workforce Strategies at MRA -- The Management Association.


MRA is one of the largest employer associations in the nation, providing resources to 4,000 businesses annually to help them thrive. For more information go to

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