Schools' pandemic timeline - uncertainty and constant change
As a superintendent who, in my career, has also held positions at the State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Public Health, I know officials in those agencies are working tirelessly to decipher data and provide the best direction in the moment. My below timeline of guidance is not intended to offend them; rather, to (in a satirical way) help our communities understand the complexity of our work since March 13, 2020.
March 13 -- 46 cases
Effective March 17, you must shut down all schools. This virus called COVID-19 will spread like wildfire if we do not flatten the curve. We also are shutting other nonessential services like bars and gyms. Oh, but please be sure to educate kids remotely. We will let you know how soon.
State Government (SG)
March 27 -- 3,026 confirmed cases and 34 deaths
Please begin remote learning days beginning March 31. We suggest you do not grade students. Use this as "the opportunity to redo, make up, or try again to complete, show progress, or attempt to complete work assigned prior to March 13." And even though it does not really count, take attendance! -- SG
April 27 -- Over 45,000 cases; 1,983 deaths
While schools remain closed, we give you flexibility on how to meet student needs, but try to give 30 minutes per day of instruction to kindergartners, to somewhere between two and five hours for high school.
Start making plans to make up for lost learning (assume online).
And you cannot hold any in-person graduation ceremonies. -- SG
May 1 -- 56,000 cases; 2,457 deaths
Forget about that whole graduation statement. Be creative, but follow the rules -- wear face masks, limit participation, and get all your local health departments to bless your plan. -- SG
May 15 -- 90,000 cases; 4,058 deaths
Here is guidance for how you can run summer school. You should plan to make it remote only. This will help those students who were not successful in remote learning. -- SG
June 18 -- 134,000 cases; 6,536 deaths
Great news! Remember how we said you couldn't hold in-person summer school? Well now you can utilize a mix of in-person and remote learning.
For next school year, plan to return to school using Blended Remote Learning Days "to support a safe transition back to in-person learning." -SG
June 23 -- 137,000 cases; 6,706 deaths
While we said to expect Blended Remote Learning Days to provide a "safe transition back" to school, now in-person instruction is strongly encouraged. You must provide "appropriate social distancing, face coverings, enhanced sanitation measures, and other accommodations ..." and no more than 50 individuals in one space ... and make sure nobody with symptoms comes into a building.
Please note, there are no additional legal protections if someone gets sick while in your schools. -- SG
Our bad. When we said "Face coverings" we really only meant face masks. Face shields don't work. -- SG
July 23 -- 166,000 cases; 7,366 deaths
Less than a month away from school and we are pleased to share with you our Fall 2020 Learning Recommendations.
We really want to ensure local control, but 1) we really want to emphasize the importance of in-person schooling, and 2) you must offer families a remote learning option. You may decide internally how to reconcile those two points.
It is safe to open if you follow what we said before ... social distance, mask wearing, no more than 50 people in a space. Congratulations, you are an "essential function" once again. And remember kids need a full five hours of instruction daily. -- SG
This is your federal government. We have over 4 million cases and 143,868 deaths on a slope that continues to rise.
We really want kids back in school. It is perfectly safe so long as you follow the timely and updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control. In addition to masks and social distance, we also want you to ensure that everyone washes their hands frequently, nobody touches their face, people who are sick stay home, and you limit the use of shared objects.
Some countries are using "pods" where students and staff stay together all day. Sorry if you cannot afford the additional staff for that model.
Good luck figuring out lunch and bus transportation.
• Tony Sanders is CEO of Elgin Area School District U-46.