For the first time since schools across America abruptly closed due to the corona virus pandemic, class is back in session in four states. Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Indiana are each home to school districts that have resumed classes in the past two weeks. The transition back has been anything but seamless.
Still, the nation watches closely as other states and municipalities consider when and how to reopen. While some big districts (like Chicago Public Schools) have already announced that they will continue virtual learning for the near future, others hope to return to some degree of normalcy by September. So here are a few things we’ve learned so far from those schools that have reopened their doors.
Increase in reported COVID cases
Over the last four weeks, the American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association reports a 90% increase in reported cases of COVID-19 among children. While class returning to session is not the sole cause, it is a contributor, as several schools have already bred clusters of the virus.
According to CNN, 230 cases of COVID have already sprung from the handful of reopened schools. That includes North Paulding High School, where a student took a photo that went viral, showing maskless students sardined into a narrow hallway. Soon after, North Paulding temporarily closed campus because six students and three teachers tested positive for the corona virus.
Meanwhile, in Mississippi, state health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs says that at least 22 schools have reported COVID cases among students and faculty.
On Again, Off Again
Another red flag is that several schools have had to switch temporarily to all-virtual learning even after reopening. In addition to North Paulding High School, Woodstock High and Etowa High School, both in Georgia, tentatively switched back to remote learning after 14 cases of COVID were confirmed in each school.
Subsequently, over 1,100 students and staff members from over a dozen schools in Cherokee County, GA were told to quarantine for two weeks. Dr. Brian Hightower, Superintendent of Schools, says that the district is “not hesitating to quarantine students and staff who have had possible exposure.” In a letter to parents, he insisted that even those students who were exposed but have not exhibited symptoms should self-isolate, “as all positive cases can lead to the infection of others.”
All of this is to say that even districts which hope to return all students to school in September would be wise to keep their virtual learning infrastructure in place. Students will likely be in and out of their school buildings, as exposure to the virus seems inevitable. Without a remote learning option, schools won’t be able to ensure that all exposed parties can isolate for the proper period of time.
Even schools that expect all students and staff to return will look different than they did before the COVID age. Most schools will require some form of mask-wearing, though that will vary by district. School buses will carry fewer students to allow for social distancing aboard, and desks and chairs in classrooms will be spaced-out for the same purpose.
Of course, none of this will come naturally to students or teachers. And as the cases noted above clearly demonstrate, there is and will continue to be, a steep learning curve.
So if there’s one big takeaway from the schools that have already resumed in-person instruction, it’s that there is no “normal” to return to. We will all have to continue being patient as we adjust to a changed world.