A RECOMMENDATION PLAN TO REOPEN OUR SCHOOLS
Recommendations and critical components for school districts to include in their COVID-19 response plans.
Our country is at a crossroads: we must determine when and how we will begin to safely reopen our schools.
As we undertake this task, we must use this opportunity to rethink education policy, more broadly. The local context of every school is unique, but the core principles of social, economic, and health justice can be achieved throughout the country if we structure our federal approach with ambitious public policy measures.
Our public school system was underfunded and unequal far before the COVID pandemic hit, rife with inequalities along race, class, and gender lines. The privatization of education, the expansion of charter schools, and the surge of test-and-punish approaches that stigmatize, label, and rank students, teachers, and schools have pushed majority-minority school districts to the sidelines for decades.
Now, as our country is forced to face the ripple effects of this unprecedented public health crisis, it’s time that we also confront these systemic inequities that have plagued our education system for far too long.
My plan urges school districts to use this public health crisis as an opportunity to fundamentally rethink education policy in a way that both repairs the wounds of our history and fulfills the promise of our multiracial democracy. It encourages school districts to fight for massive federal investments that will create more equitable school districts including the COVID Education Block Grant and the COVID Capital Facilities Grant. It encourages school districts to establish November 2020 as the earliest date when schools should reopen for in-person learning.
If the last few months have taught us anything it's that we must proactively work to contain the spread of the virus, as we simultaneously prepare for alternative forms of virtual learning until we can guarantee we can safely return to our schools.
Overall, the goal of this plan is not to predetermine exactly what should be done, but rather to suggest overarching aims and principles, to delineate best practices, and to serve as an informational guide for safely reopening our schools.
Click here to read the complete report.We urge five essential public policy measures to protect students, teachers, and communities:
- Offer massive federal subsidies (e.g., through COVID Education Block Grants) to lower levels of government, including school districts
- Centralize PPE production for educators and free, universal distribution of cloth masks and meals for all school district households
- Develop comprehensive testing and tracing capacity, including distribution and use of contactless thermometers at all educational facilities
- Provide coherent and accessible messaging on the risks and symptoms of COVID, and preventative measures to minimize COVID spread
- Make strong federal investments in capital improvements to make more buildings healthy and accessible in a world where COVID exists without a vaccine (COVID Capital Grants)
We also urge that four core principles and goals of health justice, informed by democratic values, guide the school reopening debate
- Minimize COVID spread
- Advance educational equity by prioritizing vulnerable populations in policymaking
- Create robust, dynamic working groups that promote community engagement. Include public health experts, educators, and community members to increase trust, assess risk, and set local policy
- Create safe and healthy educational facilities to advance equitable educational outcomes and improve community health
We offer core recommendations across four issue areas
- Curriculum, Policy, and Decision-Making
We suggest steps to create an inclusive working group to set COVID school district policy, setting learning and curriculum goals with educators, establishing defined populations for in-person learning goals, and articulating a mission and values affirming educational equity.
- Operations and Staffing
We assess the minimum staffing, supplies, and resources required to safely re-open and operate facilities for in-person learning, childcare, or meal distribution through centralized logistics and supply management that leverage school and district-wide partnerships.
- Space and Facilities
We include suggestions for an updated facilities conditions assessment and local space survey that identifies and prepares educational areas to advance equitable educational outcomes while maintaining safe and healthy social distancing and personal hygiene; these capital improvements are prioritized by population vulnerability and facility condition.
- Federal, State, and Local Government Support
We urge state and local governments to work in concert to enhance school district planning, educational, and facility resources by coordinating logistics, supplies, and some staffing. The federal government will need to provide capacity and resources for school-level COVID testing and tracing, supplemental COVID Education Block Grants and COVID Capital Grants to meet district educational goals and improve facilities, Title I funding to address educational equity, and consistent and accessible messaging around the dangers of COVID, preventative measures, and where to go for resources and information.
We also provide guidance on a wide range of particular issues.
Following our core recommendations across these four issue areas, we provide more specific ideas, guidelines, and recommendations on a wide range of issues, like school lunches, contact tracing, students with disabilities, students experiencing homelessness, immunocompromised teachers and staff, outdoor education, and so on.
- Providing free and universal hardware, IT support, and mobile wifi hotspots for all students enrolled in public schools.
- Immediately prioritizing high-need schools for facility improvements and green retrofits.
- Establishing clear, inclusive, and accessible channels of communication between decision-makers and stakeholders.
- Establishing partnerships with health care facilities, childcare centers, planning departments, transit agencies, arts/music/theatre/science groups, universities, and community/recreation centers/other large open/well-ventilated spaces that are not in use to accommodate district needs for childcare, in-person learning spaces, and meal preparation and distribution.