What will schools look like in the fall?

As school officials, teachers and parents attempt to formulate plans for reopening in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s secretary of education recently shared a message.

Except it’s not so much a message as it is a threat.

“The key is that kids have to get back to school,” Betsy DeVos said during a dismal performance on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday. “And we know there are going to be hot spots. And those need to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. But the rule should be that kids go back to school this fall. They have been missing months of learning.”

Teachers and school officials overwhelmingly agree they want to reopen schools – when it’s safe.

But when granted an opportunity to offer support and encouragement to the education community in these unprecedented times, the country’s education “leader” failed.

Other than threatening to defund schools that refuse to open, DeVos offered no other guidance for how schools may respond to an outbreak of coronavirus, and ducked questions about whether the government is recommending schools follow CDC recommendations.

Instead of asking administrators and teachers what they need to succeed, the secretary taunted them.

In a functioning administration, the federal government would provide educators with overall guidelines that they could tailor to fit their respective school districts. A lack of leadership at the federal level leaves thousands of school districts to their own devices, developing individual plans from scratch.

Without offering clear and concise best practices, administrators are being asked to reinvent the wheel, and will ultimately take the heat when their plans fail.

With school starting as soon as next month for many, our local school communities can’t wait for guidance. Superintendents, teachers, parents and students are meeting and piecing together plans to reopen and keep staff and students safe based on information from state and local health departments, as well as state boards of education.

With minimal to zero experience in disease control prevention, these groups are designing flow charts for cafeterias, determining how many students can safely ride a bus, where they can store their backpacks, drawing up action plans for outbreaks … the list seems endless. And this is on top of preparing lesson plans and best practices for e-learning.

If our school communities won’t receive support and encouragement from the top down, we, as community members throughout the country’s 13,500-plus school districts, can support our local education leaders by being patient and getting involved. Attend your local school board meeting. Volunteer for a community committee. Offer comments, not criticism. Ask how you can help.

The plans won’t be perfect. As we said, these are unprecedented times.

We’ve seen remarkable creativity and flexibility with teaching and student support since March. Take for instance the out-of-the-box graduation ceremonies schools organized to ensure students received the recognition they deserved while sharing those moments with loved ones.

We have faith our local school leaders will do the best with the information they have.

It’s a shame they don’t have that clear leadership and support from the top.

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