The surge of COVID-19 cases in Illinois ended with more than 1,900 new cases in a single day on the last day of July. With that in mind, should students return to school in the fall? Before the outbreak, Chicago public school students were expecting a return to in-person schooling on September 8.
There are both pros and cons regarding returning to school in September. Let’s examine both, despite not having a precise answer on what will happen for the 2020-21 school year. Let’s see what we do know of so far in August.
The Pros for Returning to School
Students Not as Likely to Contract or Die from COVID-19
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), children appear to have lower incidences of contracting the illness than adults. As of July 17, children and teenagers accounted for less than 7% of all COVID cases. Additionally, it also comes down to less than 0.01% of all COVID-19 deaths. International studies have also shown that infection rates among children and from student-to-teacher are low. Current studies show that children do not appear to be the primary source of contagion within schools or their communities.
The “summer slide” is a documented fact. Students lose academic progress during the summer months. In one study of 3rd through 5th graders, students lost roughly 20% of their gains in reading and 27% of their gains in math during summer break. There are predictions, with as long as students have been out of school due to COVID-19, that learning loss could be much worse. Students could lose up to 50% of the school year’s academic gains in math, a subject many parents are not comfortable teaching.
Social Isolation and Social Development
Lack of schooling is also having a detrimental effect on the social skills and cognitive development of younger children. Through play and interactions with their peers, students cultivate social skills. For older students, social isolation, in addition to increasing pressures at home due to unemployment and illness concerns, may be contributing to teen suicide and self-harm.
Missing Vital Services
Students are also missing the vital services schools provide. Schools play a prominent role in feeding underprivileged children. Before school shutdowns, the school district in Washoe County, Nevada, provided over 250,000 meals a week. After the shutdown, it was only 39,000. Schools are also required to report possible incidences of child abuse, and abuse reports have dropped dramatically since schools closed.
Remote Learning Not Effective
While teachers have been using technology in classrooms for some time; however, most districts did not have proper preparations for large-scale remote learning. Technology usage in classrooms is highly beneficial when traditionally used to enhance learning activities or for higher education. It takes a relatively detailed level of planning in order to get right, and the switch precipitated by COVID set districts — and remote learning — up for failure.
Since remote learning started this spring, Education Week has reported that one of five students has disappeared. This is due to no internet access, unstable home life, and other factors. Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that young children should be exposed to no more than one hour of screen time per day, which is impractical if their academics are being presented remotely.
There may not be as many cons for keeping students from returning to school, but the reasons are powerful. Sarah Gross, an English teacher in New Jersey states it well: “I think a lot of times people forget that kids don’t go to school by themselves. The schools are run by a lot of adults; a lot of those adults are especially vulnerable to coronavirus.”
All of the reasons for returning are counterproductive if people get sick.
The American Federation of Teachers stated they would be open to performing “safety strikes” if the following conditions were not met before opening school:
- A COVID-19 infection rate of below 5%.
- A COVID-19 transmission rate of less than 1%.
- Special accommodations provided to high-risk staff.
- Schools having safeguards in place. This involves physical distancing, face coverings, a consistent cleaning and sanitization regimen, and hand-washing stations.
Preparing schools and districts at large for many of these conditions to be met may turn out to be cost-prohibitive as well, not to mention logistical nightmares. Teachers will have to return. Maintenance workers should return early to sanitize and prepare for the return of students and staff this fall. Moreover, that may involve sanitizing thousands to even millions of surfaces.
As of the beginning of August, Chicago Public Schools were uncertain about their plans for the upcoming school year and were having meetings in which the community could ask questions and relay their concerns.
Many suburban school districts, as well as districts in downstate Illinois, have submitted their reopening plans for the school year. If you have a child in a suburban district, you can find out their current plans here. Keep in mind that the situation throughout Illinois is still fluid and subject to change.
Some districts in Illinois are starting with online learning to start the year, evaluating the situation
Waukegan, Elgin U-46 and East Maine schools, among others, have elected to start the school year remotely. However, there could be possible changes as the school year progresses. Several school districts, including Plainfield, intend to start the year with students returning to in-person education. That was squashed with a public outcry by parents and teachers alike, who were against the idea.
Others offer choices between online learning and a hybrid schedule
Other school districts, including Park Ridge-Niles and Lake Zurich, are giving parents choices. Students can learn remotely or via a hybrid schedule. The hybrid schedule would alternate by day between in-person learning and online learning. Additionally, under the hybrid plan, students would only need to report to school twice a week.
Others offer limited choices – remote learning or in-person, no in-between (maybe no choice at all)
Oswego and Palatine are also giving parents the choice between in-person and remote learning. In contrast to the previous districts, there is no hybrid schedule. It’s either remote learning or go to school in person every day.
Other districts are not allowing any choice at all, stating they must do attend school in-person.
As you can see, there are many pros and cons to returning, and Illinois school districts are all over the place on what they are planning to do. If you have a student in an Illinois school, or a school anywhere in the country for that matter, check with them to determine their current plans. And remember: you are the parent. The decision on whether your child returns to school when schools reopen is yours to make.