Schools, Parents Try Innovative Approaches to Covid Back-to-School Season

I’m relieved that my son is old enough that I needn’t decide whether to send him into a potentially dangerous classroom this fall or keep him home. But I work with families all the time, and I feel for parents everywhere who do have to make a choice – weighing safety against education, socialization and their own need to return to work. Plans currently in place to keep coronavirus out of classrooms are already encountering fails — in Indiana and Mississippi, e.g., some students tested positive only after other students had been exposed to them.

So many questions come into play. Will children actually follow the rules and keep socially distant, or naturally gravitate too close to their friends and classmates? What about school activities that in themselves require proximity, like certain types of lab work? And what will happen with athletics and after-school programs?

In the midst of conflicting information, changing guidelines, and even lack of full clarity on how easily children of different ages contract and spread the virus, schools and parents alike are making efforts to limit close encounters and other opportunities for the virus to spread. Of course, the degree of implementation and efficacy of these steps will vary, especially in locations where the virus level is high. In addition to requiring students to wear masks, they currently include:

  • Staggering drop-off and pick-up times.
  • Taking children’s temperatures when they arrive at school, although temperature checks can miss asymptomatic or atypical coronavirus cases.
  • Limiting the number of adults allowed inside schools.
  • Making the hallways unidirectional and staggering bell schedules to limit crowds.
  • Pod learning — limiting class sizes to, in one case, about 12 students and reducing interactions between classrooms, to avoid shutting down school entirely if a single pod has a positive case.
  • Installing Plexiglas desk dividers where there is not enough space to keep children 6 feet apart.
  • Giving each child individual sets of materials instead of expecting them to share.
  • Repurposing large spaces such as gyms and auditoriums for socially distant academics.
  • Requiring children to bring food from home or receive a boxed lunch and eat in their classrooms.

Parents are exploring new alternatives independently as well. Some New Yorkers of means are enrolling their children in schools nearby summer or weekend homes, where families have taken up ongoing residence, and some schools located in the city are opening their first branches in these beach or country locations.

Others around the country are planning to enroll their children in at-home “pandemic pods” or “home schooling pods” in which groups of three to 10 students learn together in homes, educated by the children’s parents or a hired teacher/private tutor. There are even services now to match families with teachers and to organize pods on behalf of families.

For more information on current efforts, visit these articles: