In these pandemic days, with COVID 19 cases increasing to records such as 15,000 new cases in one day in Florida, going back to school is hard to figure out. What does it mean to have children running around together with a virus that floats on droplets? With so much unknown about the exact science of the virus, we are left with rising cases and no clear way to open schools. One way to think about this is the idea of microschooling, where smaller groups reduce the risk to all.
Schools are Harder to Prepare
Grocery stores, Home Depot, and Walmart have stayed open. They are essential to our way of life, and school is also essential to the children for learning, essential to the parents so they can go back to work, and essential to our economy so it can return to something like normal functioning. Schools could re-open safely but for the lack of an agreed-upon virus protection plan. What the big box stores and the supermarkets have in common in terms of a safety plan are the features of masked movement, social distancing, and regular cleaning. Schools only share two of those safety features as they might be able to be regularly cleaned and they can require masked students, but sending 300 students back to the same school, in the case of an elementary school, or 4,000 students in the case of a high school makes little sense. Learning through social distancing essentially breaks how learning works as we all experienced during the stay at home phase in April. Have you seen children get together at school? They figuratively, and literally, connect.
The Real Danger May Be Adults
The unanswered questions of safety may be more troubling for the adults. The teachers and the cleaning staff may be more at risk from the spread due to their higher risk factors. The students seem to shrug off the virus better than the older ones. Older people have suffered much more than the younger ones, replicating the new forensic science of cemeteries like the ones where they buried the victims of the plague in London. They found that the plague was much more devastating for those already at risk, such as older persons, those with previous illnesses, and those persons who were home-bound.
Social distancing could be adequately addressed by small groups of learners, COVID-19 tested, working in parent’s living rooms or garages, with an accredited teacher or with parents sharing the responsibilities of a teacher. Not all parents liked our forced learning moments in April when we all had to stay home. But some parents made it through and could make it through again. Maybe we need to think about microschooling taking place in schools, at homes, all in ways that limit the spread of the virus. If there is an outbreak, it is much easier to handle it and prevent others from getting it. And this really begins to address the risk of many people walking through a hallway at school filled with droplets of COVID 19.
The Bottom Line
While we want children to resume school, we also need to make school safe for children to return. Perhaps a microschooling plan is needed that addresses the spread of the disease. We need a comprehensive plan that will slow down and eventually stop the spread of the COVID 19 virus in our society and especially in our schools and this might ask us to consider small groups of learners both in and out of school. The re-starting of school part of this plan would also directly address the bus problem for its crowding, the lunch and food delivery problem for its safeness, and the closeness in the classroom and halls problem that are essential characteristics for learning in schools. Finally, all adults need to feel as safe as the children in order for them to concentrate on their work of delivering wonderfully thought out lessons every day. Microschooling may provide us with an evolving design for the right hybrid that would change over time. The direction is clear, we need to get back to full school, but we need a safe evolving plan to get there.