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Guidelines for Reopening Schools from the AASA COVID-19 Recovery Task Force

On April 30, 2020, the AASA COVID-19 Recovery Task Force, made up of superintendents and the nation’s foremost thought leaders in public education, was formed to create a consensus-driven set of guidelines for reopening schools effectively in the COVID-19 environment..

The Task Force Considered 3 Essential Questions:

  1. What are current superintendents thinking about the impact of the Covid-19 crisis and its impact upon their school districts and communities?
  2. What are their plans so far for reopening?
  3. How can we bring consistency and alignment to formulate a set of recommendations to address the multiple issues associated with reopening?

The era of COVID-19 represents a startling new time in public education. It provides superintendents, staff, students, and families the chance to revitalize education as a public institution—and incorporate strategies and processes proven effective in making education for all learners equitable, experiential, engaging, and authentic.

This is the beginning of a powerful change in American education. We all agree that we cannot return to business as usual. This can be a watershed point in our history where we succeed in promoting equity and excellence for all learners.

– Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association

Reopening is Just a Starting Point

The coming academic year must reflect the necessary changes revealed during the crisis, including an expanded focus on the safety, physical, social, and emotional needs of students and staff.

The following recurrent issues and concerns must be continually assessed:

Health and Safety as Essential Priorities
Health, safety, and well-being of students, staff, and families is a number one priority in reopening as well as throughout the next academic year. Caution is essential and the need to restructure to conform to CDC guidelines is imperative, including acquiring resources and establishing protocols for testing, dealing with unanticipated COVID-19 related outbreaks, and ensuring ongoing sanitation of buildings and classrooms. No school or district should be forced to reopen unless they meet Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Guidelines.

The Importance of Social and Emotional Learning
Educators should continually address emerging psychological, social, and emotional needs of students, families, and staff in order to deal with learning loss and gaps extending from the crisis. Schools and districts must become both “trauma-informed” and “trauma-skilled.” There is a need for connection, collaboration, mutual support, and reinforcement to students that they are valued members of their learning community. Social and emotional learning strategies must also become a consistent part of instructional delivery to enhance all learners’ academic achievement.

The Power of Collaboration and Teamwork
The COVID-19 crisis has initiated an astounding resurgence of collaboration and teamwork within school districts and as part of outreach partnerships with local and state agencies and organizations. These forms of cross-functional teams and partnerships are essential for continuing the transformation of public education as we move into new phases of reopening and the implications of the potential for additional waves of infection.

Addressing Inequities
The closing of schools in response to the pandemic has focused a powerful spotlight on recurrent structural inequities evident in public education today (e.g., student access to broadband/internet services, achievement gaps among racial, ethnic, and economic groups; and disparities in resource access evident in many urban and rural districts compared to wealthier suburban districts). An essential priority will involve a national commitment to ensuring broadband access for all jurisdictions to address obvious inequities in student and family access to the internet and virtual/distance learning.

Ensuring That Closure and Traditional Rituals and Ceremonies are Addressed
In light of the upheaval extending from the crisis, participants consistently asserted the value of providing students and staff opportunities for closure, including end-of-year ceremonies and celebrations as well as opportunities for closure activities during future times of transition. The COVID-19 crisis has showcased the importance and necessity of shared/distributed leadership to engage stakeholders in collaborative problem solving, decision making, and building support structures.

The Importance of Leaders Understanding the Dynamics and Unanticipated Consequences of the Change Process
Leadership in education must take a holistic, Whole Child approach and address the inevitable stresses and stages associated with any dramatic change. This process must take into account the ambiguities and unanticipated issues that arise with rapid change—and require thoughtful, intention, and purposeful strategic planning to support the learning community as it confronts current and future crises.