I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, if I had the responsibility, about how would I plan the reopening of schools in my district. What problems do I need to consider? What are the limitations of the buildings and furnishings and staffing that I need to take into account? Whatever I decide, I have to remember a lot of lives will be affected by my decisions. It seems an awesome task.
The main issues I need to take into account are physical space, existing furnishings, available money, numbers and ages of teachers, the geographical area covered by each school building and for what age group is each school is designed and currently furnished and staffed.
Are the furnishings movable or screwed to the floors like the old-fashioned ones in rows where the seat was attached to the front of the desk behind it? Or are they tables with four students at each table seated two and two facing each other? In the schools I’ve visited in recent years I saw both — in both grade schools and high schools — and each cause a different distancing problem. Assuming both conditions exist in my school, and my district doesn’t have the funds for all new furniture, what am I to do?
Then I have to consider staffing — not only teachers but office and maintenance people. What are their ages and health situations? How many are nearing retirement age and old enough to be especially vulnerable if exposed? If it is a significant number, where will I find replacements when there is currently a shortage of trained teachers nationwide? Where will I find the money to hire more even if more were available? I don’t want to have to nudge anyone to take early retirement, especially when older teachers are some of the best I have.
So, what are my alternatives? One that occurs to me is to divide each class into at least two groups and assign each certain hours or the days of the week so each gets at least two-fifths of the usual schedule. The remaining fifth, maybe Wednesday, would be reserved for special needs children.
I would suggest teachers use this class time in school to evaluate each child and assign homework designed to make up for any deficiencies so, when schools reopen as usual, they will be closer to the rest of the class.
This evaluation could also tell those designing the online schooling where they need to improve their curriculum and presentations.
I realize these suggestions do little to help those parents who work, especially if they have to arrange sitters and transportation to and from for their kids. It doesn’t help those parents who live in remote areas where their children take the school bus to school. I recently heard of a child in this area whose father works in an essential job, which left the child alone in the boonies all day. We have to consider those children too in doing our planning; we have to remember to consider both urban and rural.
A lot, but not all, of the urban busing is by city mass transit. With children keeping different hours from the normal school year, special schedules are needed to accommodate those changes until things return to normal again.
So, how do we draft a plan that can apply with good results for such diverse school districts as Spokane, Pullman, Elk River, Florida, Texas, or California that will address all these issues, and I’m sure, others I’ve failed to mention?
If I had young children or grandchildren these days, I think I’d be more concerned about their health and I’d try to make up for any deficiencies in their education myself. I’m not a trained teacher, but I consider myself well educated for most daily needs. School taught me how to teach myself. Not all children are so lucky. We have too many parents these days who weren’t so lucky and we are paying for it now.
Lenna Harding lived her first 20 and past 43 years in Pullman. A longtime League of Women Voters member, she served on the Gladish Community and Cultural Center board. Reach her at email@example.com.