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The challenges of heading back to school during a pandemic for teachers, students, and staff

Johns Hopkins University team examines reopening
Safely Back to School
Posted at 4:12 AM, Jul 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-27 09:00:47-04

BALTIMORE, Md. — The August 14th deadline for Maryland superintendents to finalize their plans to reopen schools this fall is less than three weeks away.

Although, some school systems in the area have already announced their preliminary plans.

Meanwhile, researchers at Johns Hopkins University have been studying how school districts across the country are making these decisions.

Experts in education, public health and medicine worked together to compile the information.

In analyzing the Maryland State Department of Education's strategies to reopen, they found the state requirements address 12 out of 12 key categories.

Researchers with the Johns Hopkins University E-School+ Initiative compiled a reopening policy tracker of how states are guiding school administrators in their plans to open this fall.

They looked at a variety of criteria involving teachers, students, and their families.

These 12 categories include first and foremost academics, and making sure students' educational needs are being met.

They checked if schools are prepared to protect students, teachers and staff against COVID-19, if classes will be held in-person.

Other standards being tracked involve plans for meal and snack distribution for students in need.

Plus, researchers assessed if schools are handling parental requests for in-person, distance or hybrid education, as well as options for teachers and staff.

In addition, they determined if there are plans to support children with special needs and is help available for kids in low-income families.

Researchers also checked to see if schools included parents and students in the decision making process to reopen.

Johns Hopkins University School of Education assistant professor Annette Campbell Anderson said “we're trying very quickly to get tools in the hands of policy advocates, of parents, and everyone in between, administrators. So, we're trying to think from multiple spaces, how we could quickly get some tools into people's hands so that they could use them and start thinking critically about this issue, because we know this has changed the way we think about school.”

In tracking how state departments of education are handling the needs of students, researchers only made note whether or not a state is addressing the criteria.

They did not evaluate how well or to what extent a state is executing its plans.

Besides tracking reopening policies, researchers put together a reopening checklist of things for administrators to think about as they plan to reopen.

They also collected a list of what they see as some of the best actions administrators across the country are taking to solve the many problems and issues to reopen schools, whether in-person, online, or a combination of both.

Johns Hopkins researchers designed the reopening checklist as a tool for administrators but it also could help parents determine how prepared their child's school is to reopen this fall by asking the same questions.

I think before we open the schools, in a hybrid fashion or in a socially distanced fashion, we need to have all of those plans given out to parents. Have them sit in the schools and walk through the experiences as though they were students themselves so that they can see and be comfortable with how schools have decided to utilize this planning,” Anderson said.