With the 2019-2020 school year firmly behind us, it’s now time to figure out what’s in store for 2020-2021.  As of today, there are now over 3 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States alone.  And that has many parents asking, “What is the plan for school this fall?”

I can assure you that schools all over the world are still asking this same question even as we approach the looming start of the school year.  The Texas Education Agency released guidelines about 10 days ago that have already been changed and updated as of yesterday.  Just when we think we have it figured out, the plan requires change.

The nature of COVID-19 has dramatically transformed the way we will approach education this fall, and we all must be flexible and adaptable if we want to navigate this school year successfully.  As of now, most schools are looking at three potential plans for the fall:

The Hybrid Plan

In planning for my own start of the school year, I have kept a close eye on what schools all over the world are doing and planning.  One of the earliest models that schools implemented was a “hybrid” plan, in which students attended school in-person a few days a week and learned from home the other days of the week.  In theory this would reduce the number of students in school on any given day and thus reduce the chances of an outbreak.

This was actually the plan that I was leaning towards in mid-June.  It seemed to make sense, and it allowed for 6 feet of space between students in every classroom.  However, as we got deeper into summer, it became increasingly apparent that having students in school half the time and at home half the time was a logistical nightmare, both for the school and for parents.  Plus, offering lessons in two different formats was literally twice as much work for teachers, while providing only half as much content for students.  When it comes down to it, the Hybrid Plan offers the least flexibility for parents, the most work for teachers, and likely the worst academic outcomes for students.

The In-Person Plan

Watching my 4-year old stay at home for the past 4 months with almost no interaction with his friends has been tough.  I know he is craving social interaction, and part of me is starting to wonder if he’s going to experience any long-term effects from the isolation.

I know I’m not alone in this.  Many polls have shown that parents increasingly support in-person learning, even if it means their kids will be exposed to COVID-19.  Research also indicates that children are far less likely to 1) contract COVID-19 and 2) pass it on to others.  At this point, the positives of sending kids back to school seem to outweigh the risks.  I, for one, plan to send our 4-year old back to school.  He needs the social interaction, and although he’s only 4, he will certainly pick up some academic skills that are being neglected at home.  This will certainly be true for kids of all ages.

The caveat for offering in-person learning, of course, is ensuring proper health and safety measures.  Our school is relatively small, so we have adequate space for students to remain socially distanced.  However, this is not the case for many schools.  Thinking through all the possible scenarios that may lead to an outbreak is challenging.  But with the right team in place, I’m confident schools can do it.  Face masks, one-way hallways and stairwells, temperature checks, lunches in classrooms or outside, minimal interaction in PE, and tons of hand sanitizer will be the new normal come August.

The Remote Plan

While many parents want to send their kids back to school in the fall, there are a significant number who do not feel it is safe.  These parents have been very vocal about keeping kids home until a vaccine has been developed.  This sentiment is totally understandable, and we must provide an option for these families.

Just about every school offered remote learning this past spring as schools closed down in mid-March.  However, most schools were not prepared at all to pivot so quickly to virtual learning.  My school, for instance, had the week of spring break to transform itself into a fully virtual learning environment.  I think we did a great job considering the situation, but looking back we were just trying to survive.

Now that we’ve had time to review our spring remote learning plan, it is clear that kids struggle with self-paced learning, particularly when a parent is not available to help.  Consequently, we, and many other public and private schools, are planning for synchronous remote learning this fall.  Synchronous remote learning mirrors the normal school day, and students essentially sit in their normal classrooms via their computers at home.  The beauty of synchronous learning is that it creates structure for at-home students and does not require much additional work for teachers.

Now admittedly we are still working out the technology to create a dynamic remote learning environment for our students, but I am encouraged with all the products that are available.  Google Meets is an intriguing option that allows for virtual break out rooms.  Combine that with a few webcams in the classroom, and students can experience the normal classroom pretty well.

As schools continue to develop and fine-tune their plans for reopening, it is important that you consider your options.  Each one presents unique challenges, particularly for students who have certain learning styles.  At the end of the day no one really knows how this fall will play out.  However, I do anticipate that students will need both academic and social/emotional support as they embark on an entirely new scholastic paradigm.  Academic mentoring can help your child stay on track this fall, no matter the school format.