AASA has identified ten priority areas as controlling principles for reopening guidelines. Based upon these ten guiding principles, the AASA COVID-19 Recovery Task Force has also generated specific recommendations for action steps that can operationalize these principles.
These recommendations represent the consensus-driven opinions of task force members combined with additional recommendations from national and international frameworks related to ensuring that the reopening of schools is as safe, efficient, and personalized as possible.
It is essential that district leaders and staff anticipate the reality of multiple potential scenarios associated with the reopening process. These may include a return to in-person learning, the continuation of virtual learning, or a blended approach involving some students and staff returning to in-person learning while others continue to participate in remote learning. Policies and procedures must be in place and maintained consistently for attendance, health screening and quarantine procedures, school closures, social distancing, hygiene, and cleaning aligned with the unique challenges of each scenario (in alignment with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
It is essential that leaders and staff prepare for a changing landscape when reopening occurs. Careful consideration must be given to safety and sanitation, the implications of social distancing, and shifting roles and duties of staff as education returns to some form of normalcy. Accommodations must be made to address learning loss as well as ensuring support services for students, staff, and families extending from the crisis.
The COVID-19 crisis has brought a stark spotlight on the many inequities evident in our diverse student populations. A critically important priority is the continuation of free access for all learners to Broadband connectivity, the internet, and related hardware. Task force members support AASA’s recent letter to Congress urging them to support all students displaced from their classrooms, including $4 billion in direct funds to the Federal Communications Commission’s Schools and Libraries Program, commonly called the E-Rate program, to help connect millions of students to the internet.
Without question, social and emotional learning (SEL) is a critically important priority that has emerged from the crisis and related school closures. The psychological, interpersonal, and emotional needs of students, staff, and families must become a key focal point as some form of reopening occurs. In addition to requisite services and resources, SEL strategies and techniques must become a consistent part of classroom instruction, reinforcing safety, well-being, and engagement within the learning community.
Extensive professional development is necessary to ensure that staff understand the long-term effects of various forms of trauma (i.e., physical, psychological/mental, and relational). As staff become trauma-informed, district leaders and staff must ensure that policies and practices are in place to address the impact of trauma in its various forms and ensure that schools are safe spaces within which individuals and groups can express their concerns, anxieties, and fears.
Educational leaders must prepare for a variety of potential human resource and related contractual issues that may extend from the Covid-19 crisis into the reopening process. These can range from salary concerns and elimination of negotiated cost-of-living raises to potential contingencies such as staff members’ inability to return to full-time in-person employment as a result of health situations or family obligations.
In the new educational environment we are entering, educational leaders must ensure that sustained professional development is available for administrators, teachers, and support staff on a range of crisis-related issues. These include strategies for making virtual learning engaging and interactive, addressing SEL needs among students and staff, and enhancing staff understanding of what it means to be trauma-informed and trauma-skilled.
Educators throughout the United States have confirmed that the COVID-19 crisis has revealed the power and importance of transforming teaching and learning as we typically practice them. Classrooms must be safe, healthy, and inviting learning communities. We must ensure that all students feel respected, acknowledged, and efficacious in their learning process. Our curriculum must be culturally responsive and relevant, organized around such connecting schema as themes, universal and enduring understandings, and essential questions. Similarly, we must overcome our prior tendencies to “teach to the test,” expanding our assessment repertoire to include a balance of formative assessment, criterion-based coaching and feedback, and summative assessment that is performance-centered and—whenever possible—project based. Classrooms and schools must become increasingly personalized, engaging, and differentiated environments that acknowledge and address students’ varying readiness levels, interests, and learner profiles.
Without question, these are unprecedented times in terms of public health and economic well-being. As schools reopen, educators must be alert to potential funding shortages, shortfalls, and budget reallocation to fund a range of health and sanitation supplies (e.g., thermometers, tele-scanning devices, sanitation supplies and materials) as well as budgetary implications of social-distancing requirements (e.g., funding expanded transportation such as buses as well as enhancements of classroom spaces and furniture arrangements).
Task force superintendents reinforced that educators will benefit from viewing the Covid-19 crisis as a breakthrough opportunity to transform schools and education as we know them. The crisis has reinforced long-standing inequities and imbalances within the United States extending from racial, ethnic, cultural, and geographic divides. The lessons we have learned during the pandemic can lead us to a new way of ensuring the achievement of all learners while emphasizing their physical development, health issues, as well as their social-emotional learning progress.