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From Triage to Recovery: Issues States Will Address in School Reopening Plans

By Evie Blad — April 30, 2020 4 min read
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As nearly every state commits to keeping its schools closed for the remainder of the current school year, a group representing state education officials nationwide has taken inventory of all of the issues they must address when they eventually reopen buildings and welcome students back for in-person learning.

The conversation is shifting from the initial “rapid response” questions of how to ensure students’ safety and well-being when schools suddenly closed this spring to slow the spread of coronavirus and toward a broader menu of concerns related to academics, contingency planning, and communicating with the public, said Carissa Moffat Miller, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers.

“While [that initial concern] remains, there is also this real need to turn toward what’s next,” she said Thursday.

Her comments came as CCSSO unveiled a “restart and recovery framework,” outlining elements education officials must plan for when they determine how to reopen school facilities in a nation that still faces the possibility of a resurgence of the pandemic.

The organization has met remotely with state school chiefs since the start of broad school closures in March, compiling the list. It plans to work with those officials to drill down into more specific logistics, offering best practices, resources, and a decisionmaking framework for reopening within the next 30 to 60 days. The move comes as some other organizations have complained federal guidance on school reopenings lacks clarity and consistency.

CCSSO has previously convened state leaders to navigate issues that affected both policy and practice, like the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

CCSSO hopes the recovery work will help state leaders build flexible approaches that can adjust to factors like changing disease rates and the emergence of new treatment options. Some governors and school chiefs, in states like Maryland and Washington, have already suggested closures could continue into the fall if the virus resurges in their areas.

The CCSSO framework considers four major “buckets” of questions while recognizing that strategies for any one issue, like transportation or facilities use, could affect practices in other categories, like continuity in education, Moffat Miller said.

“A single decision creates a cascade of 16 or 17 more decisions,” she said.

Here are the four categories of concerns CCSSO has identified for states’ school reopening plans.

Continuity of Learning

States must consider how to assess and address academic needs as they reopen schools. This may include summer school, the use of diagnostic tests to measure learning loss from students who had inadequate access to remote learning, and special supports for targeted populations, like students from high-poverty families, the framework says.

Schools may also consider new approaches to minimize crowds of students, like blended learning or staged reopening. And, they should consider professional development for distance learning and strategies to ensure adequate internet access for all students should remote instruction continue, the framework says.

Conditions for Learning

Issues in this “bucket” relate to the heightened needs related to social, emotional, and physical well-being students may experience as they return to school.

States should consider access to supports, like counseling services and free school meals for students, the outline says. It also calls for schools to consider health and safety protocols and family and community engagement strategies to help seek input and support as educators face what many have referred to as “the new normal.”

Leadership and Planning

This category of issues includes planning for how schools will respond to a reemergence of the virus, seeking communication and input about the use of federal coronavirus relief funding, and communicating plans to the public.

Policy and Funding

CCSSO, which helped advocate for federal waivers from some of ESSA’s testing, spending, and accountability requirements, plans to continue advocating for resources at the federal level, the outline says. Governors also project revenue shortfalls that will lead to dramatic cuts to education spending in some areas, and state education leaders will continue to collaborate about how to mitigate the effects of those cuts, the organization says.

See: Coronavirus Aid Might Not Prevent Cuts to School Funding, Analysis Shows

Photo: Austin Independent School District bus driver Antonio Fajardo Espinoza wipes down buses with antibacterial cleaner in March. The district installed WiFi on all school buses to act as hotspots for students without home internet access during coronavirus-related school closures. Around the country, state and district leaders are planning for when and how to reopen schools. —Julia Robinson for Education Week