What Happens if Schools Can’t Open?

If I were a school superintendent right now, I would be severely perplexed. In South Carolina, the state has produced a large report with suggestions about how to open school safely. Many of the suggestions are common sense. Some are of uncommon sense and some will not work at all. Even in wealthy school districts, one could not find enough buses and bus routes to get the children to school. It would mean a mammoth outlay of dough.

For those of you who are Star Trek fans, either the original series or the new movies, you will remember the Kobayashi Maru problem presented to recruits in the Space Academy. At that point, Mr. Spock was in charge of the problem that had no solution. You always lost and your entire fleet of spaceships were destroyed.

No one ever solved the problem. That is to say until James Tiberius Kirk took the test. He was able to destroy the enemy with very few losses. Spock was enraged. This could not happen. What did happen was that Kirk messed around with the computer the night before which allowed him to win.

What does this have to do with our problems with Covid-19 and the opening of school. At this point there are a number of plans to limit the number of students being in the building at the same time. Schedules are being changed during the school day. Physical changes in classrooms and cafeterias, hallways, bus routes and are being planned. Others are hoping that the virus will dissipate by August and  are keeping to the same opening and school year. There are others that will be a hybrid of face to face and online learning.

Most all of these will require students, teachers, paraprofessionals, office staff, bus drivers, to come into a large enclosed space. No matter all the mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing, many students and adults will get sick.

So how does one avoid bringing the children and adults into the school buildings?

In most of your communities, there are many houses of worship, community centers, even some old schools that have been put to use in other ways. There may well be other structures in the community that could fit a class or two within their walls.

There are so many details to iron out. Who will be responsible for the disinfection? Who will provide for the custodial duties? Where will the supplies come from for the cleansing of the rooms. Who will provide the food? And the final problem, what about teachers.

We may be doing back to the one room schoolhouse with our teachers. They will be teaching, especially in the elementary grades, by going to these alternative places. That can all be worked out. A school van can deliver supplies and materials and even chairs, desks and so on.

How will the children get to school? We could follow the state’s guidelines, but in this case in might not work. You may have to call on parents, neighbors and suchlike to bring the children to school. Hopefully the classrooms will be close by to the neighborhoods.

As for the middle school and the high school, there are a number of ways to handle that. Those of us who are cave people went to school where the grades in elementary schools ran K-8. That could be the new format. Therefore, there could be those classrooms that could be adjoining in a larger structure.

Teachers are masterful at changing formats and going with the flow. That will be their badge of honor in this case. We may be able to do some hybrid learning in some cases. That might even suffice for high schoolers, who could be in a large community center. I have seen them in the county.

As for lunch and snacks (for the little ones) could be delivered by a van also. If the church does not have a refrigerator, the school district could buy them one. In a larger church, there is probably a social hall, where the little ones could have some exercise.

There are even community centers that have a basketball court for the bigger students. Since this is not a cold climate, outside activities and games could be the order of the day.The teachers in the high school could switch subjects and spend more time on things than they normally do. There also will not be any announcements or other interruptions.

This is also a gigantic way of getting closer to the community. It really would be interesting to see what the reaction would be to this sort of plan. What churches or communities would want to get involved? What would a rental cost be? As a former school superintendent and Regional Educational Service Agency Exec., I actually did those things while trying to put in 125 special education and pre-school programs in various school districts. I really needed help and I got it. I was amazed to see who helped and who stood by the wayside.

Certainly, there are more questions; liability, size of classrooms for social distancing, what about ACE students and the new CATE program? They are not minor details, but I have confidence that all can be worked out.