Principles for reopening schools in the fall

As our students and staff wrap up the unprecedented 2019-2020 school year, it is time to turn our eyes to the upcoming school year and the “new normal.” We have already begun our work to ensure that we are ready to reopen schools.

Children and their families rely on schools for academic, social-emotional, health and safety, and nutrition. Staff and student face-to-face connections contribute to positive wellbeing and social emotional development. Relationships matter. We know that school closures have had adverse effects on students and adults, thus the need to reopen schools safely, following existing guidelines, is paramount.

We have formed a series of working groups under the acronym START: StraTegic Action Reopening Teams. Each of the priority teams will include multiple stakeholders, including leaders of the Lancaster Education Association and support staff. We have also added parents and medical professionals to various teams to review our safety protocols. These teams are guided by a set of principles I shared with our school board this month. They are:

Teaching and Learning:

  1. Using an equity lens, we must ensure our most vulnerable populations, (special education, ELD) are considered first in our new learning approach.
  2. Face-to-face, real time teaching is a priority, along with ensuring that conditions that promote safety, and reduce transmission of the virus are strictly adhered to and communicated. Live teaching and live teaching via video platforms are required. We will use this opportunity to measure and evaluate best practices for improving our educational delivery in the future.
  3. The needs of elementary, middle, and high school students are different. Flexibility in scheduling around staffing will be necessary. The plan for McCaskey High School will look different from the plan for elementary or middle school.
  4. Opportunities for large gatherings must be eliminated. This may require teachers moving from class to class rather than student.
  5. Alternative plans must be made for families who do not feel comfortable sending students to a school building.

Social-Emotional Needs:

  1. In addition to the learning needs of students, we must address the social-emotional health needs of students and staff, including trauma, anxiety, and depression that prevent learning and teaching.
  2. Schools do not exist solely for academic learning. Schools provide opportunities for students to learn and grow by participating in music, the arts, physical development, and other activities that develop social competencies through extracurricular activities and athletics. Our planning should include opportunities that support the development of the whole child.

Health and Welfare:

  1. Social distancing orders will apply to all areas of education in SDoL including playgrounds, cafeterias, and school busses. This may require significantly adjusted teaching and learning schedules.
  2. Protocols must be established and communicated that reduce transmission of the disease before students and staff enter school buildings.
  3. Intense cleaning of facilities must occur throughout the day.
  4. Special protocols must be developed for high risk populations, such as: students living in transitional spaces, persons with physical and multiple disabilities, students alone at home due to working parents, persons with preexisting conditions, persons experiencing mental health trauma and unable to return to school.

We will continue to provide updates throughout the summer as we make decisions and receive guidance from the PA Department of Education.

Best wishes for a safe, relaxing and enriching summer to all!