Guidelines for reopening school in the wake of COVID-19. | AASA Central
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Action Steps for Guiding Principle 2

from the AASA COVID-19 Recovery Task Force

Build a COVID-19-Response Reopening Infrastructure Aligned with Identified Scenarios and Contingencies

As superintendents and their staffs plan for a variety of scenarios and contingencies in anticipation of reopening schools, a new kind of support infrastructure will be necessary to address health and psychological issues emerging from the COVID-19 crisis. Elements of the infrastructure include:

  • Ensuring that cross-functional leadership teams are in place and operational to develop, implement and monitor reopening plans and address emerging contingencies related to COVID-19 responses (e.g., policies and procedures involving new COVID-19 cases within the school or community);
  • Acquiring equipment and technology necessary to address student and staff health issues, including thermometers and other electronic telemonitoring/scanning devices to monitor student and staff temperatures and related PPE resources;
  • Developing a cross-district or regional approach to equipment and resource purchase to ensure quality of the technology and to minimize the potential for price gouging among businesses;
  • Ensuring that transportation (e.g., buses), meals and health services are available to students within the context of multiple scenarios and contingencies;
  • Developing and communicating clear policies and regulations related to all phases of reopening, including procedures for addressing identified COVID-19 cases within the building or district and related interventions, supports and communication;
  • Ensuring that students who are not attending virtual classes or appear disengaged from the process are identified to receive necessary support services; and
  • Continuing to ensure open lines of clear and accurate communication to ensure that all stakeholders are receiving common messages and updates.

Task force members recommend the following action steps related to building a COVID-19-related opening infrastructure in anticipation of inevitable changes and structural reforms that will extend into the coming academic year:

1. Ensure that cross-functional leadership teams are operational.

2. Reinforce safety, health and wellness priorities extending from the crisis.

3. Enhance lines of communication to ensure clear and timely messaging.

4. Actively involve leadership groups (e.g., board of education, government agencies, colleges and universities, nonprofits, business leaders) in providing support and feedback regarding the reopening process and future changes in public education.

5. Ensure that funding sources are accessed and maximized to purchase equipment and resources related to safety, health and wellness.

6. Explore options for maximizing staffing required to reopen successfully.

7. Make appropriate adjustments to existing curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices to address learning gaps and loss extending from school closings and structural issues related to disproportionality.

8. Implement crisis response teams to address trauma-related issues experienced by students, families and staff.

9. Reinforce cross-departmental collaboration, including partnerships involving curriculum and instruction as well as student services.

10. Emphasize that student and staff members’ health social and emotional well-being are district and school priorities throughout the coming academic year.

Specific Action Steps Related to a COVID-19 Reopening Infrastructure

1. Wellness, Health and Safety Measures:

  • Determine the criteria the district will use to monitor and measure the health and well-being of students, staff and families.
  • Assess the extent to which district operational definitions and controlling principles include the domains of physical, health, psychological, social, emotional and academic needs and development of all learners.
  • Evaluate the current or potential health issues that the district will confront as schools reopen (regardless of the approach the district takes—i.e., in-person, bifurcated, virtual). How will staff address them effectively?
  • Reinforce or develop policies, regulations, and practices to address potential health issues related to the reopening. For example, What will a school do if a student or staff members tests positive for COVID-19?
  • Determine what short-term and long-term safety measures will be necessary as schools reopen and continue throughout this coming academic year (e.g., social distancing, classroom/building cleaning, sanitation practices, and related logistics).
  • Articulate the varying wellness, health and safety measures the district will put in place for different age levels and populations (e.g., primary, intermediate, middle, high; Special Education; English Learners; Title I).
  • Ensure that the wellness, health and safety of our students and staff are addressed throughout reopening and the entire academic year.

 

2. Technology:

  • Examine what the crisis has taught district educators about staff and students’ reactions to and needs related to the use of technology-driven teaching and learning.
  • Determine if there are pockets of staff, students and families who still lack full access to affordable WIFI, internet, and Chromebooks/laptops and related technology.
  • In partnership with local, regional and state agencies, determine how the district can address these gap areas.
  • Ensure that all staff members (administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals, support staff) are trained to deal with the technological implications of reopening and offer continuing emphasis on distance learning.
  • Determine what professional development is necessary to ensure that virtual learning becomes engaging, personalized and differentiated.
  • Assess budget requirements needed to ensure that the district extends and refines its technology infrastructure.
  • Identify implications for student return of Chromebooks and other resources (e.g., What if technology is lost during the closing? What if equipment is broken? What if students have moved or cannot be located?)
  • Determine how the district will ensure that municipal and regional agencies and organizations continue to support free access to WIFI/internet services.

 

3. Ensuring Academic Support and Addressing the Learning Gap:

  • Identify the major learning gaps and issues of disproportionality that the COVID-19 crisis has surfaced or reinforced. Use the school reopening process to addresses these gaps and issues.
  • Determine the immediate priorities the district is facing related to addressing students’ learning gaps and areas in which they may benefit from acceleration.
  • Address these gaps and issues in a multi-modal context (i.e., using a combination of virtual/distance learning and in-person teaching-learning).
  • Use data to monitor student progress and assess the impact of the interventions and support services used to address these gaps and issues.
  • Use the COVID-19 school closings to augment and enhance the district’s approach to instructional delivery and learning. For example, how can the district ensure that all classrooms are personalized, engaging, authentic and differentiated to address students’ varying readiness levels, interests, cultures and learner profiles?
  • Use lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis to enhance the cultural responsiveness of schools and classrooms, ensuring that the district promotes equity and excellence for all students.

 

4. Special Populations:

  • Evaluate how school closings have affected such groups as students with Individualized Education Plans, English Learners, Title I-eligible students, and Talented and Gifted Learners. To what extent has the closing contributed to students’ learning gaps, engagement and/or sense of support and belonging?
  • Determine strategies and processes required to address the learning, health and well-being, and social-emotional needs of each of these special populations.
  • Ensure that the physical, psychological, academic and social-emotional needs of our special populations are adequately addressed as schools reopen—and beyond into the coming academic year.
  • Use a range of data sources to monitor the academic, psychological and social-emotional development and progress of special populations.
  • Make certain that adequate funding is available to support the needs of special populations. For example, how can the district leverage federal and state funding to expand delivery of services and interventions?
  • Implement needed modifications to the district’s Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) to ensure that all special population students’ needs will be addressed.
  • Engage key parent and stakeholder groups associated with each special population in providing feedback and suggestions concerning these issues.

 

5. Progress Monitoring and Accountability Measures:

  • Articulate the major accountability issues the district must address extending from school closures and the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Augment the monitoring of student progress to provide feedback and support to learners and determine interventions to address learning gaps extending from school closures.
  • Modify programs and practices to address the diverse range of learning issues (e.g., anxiety, depression, stress, trauma, disengagement, etc.) that students may exhibit when they return.
  • Make appropriate adjustments to traditional accountability measures and processes (e.g., pacing of curriculum implementation, intervention to reinforce standards missed during the closure, Tier II and Tier III interventions within the district’s MTSS).
  • Modify or adjust school improvement plans to address this new era of accountability.
  • Use disaggregated data to monitor underachieving subgroups whose learning may have been most severely impacted by the school closings.
  • Determine the role of standardized testing in accountability: Is this the time to use a more balanced and student-centered approach to progress monitoring and evaluation?
  • Analyze the implications of school closings and the reopening process on grades, progress reports and report cards.
  • Determine the reporting resources the district will need to inform the board, parents and community members about progress in addressing students’ needs extending from the crisis and related learning gaps.

 

6. Child Nutrition Services:

  • Ensure that students receiving free or reduced-price meals have access to food regardless of the scheduling configurations elected to use in the fall (e.g., A-Week/B-Week models; bifurcated in-person and virtual learning; virtual learning, etc.).
  • Provide cross-functional services to ensure that all students are healthy and secure in terms of access to appropriate food and dietary needs.
  • Develop an action plan for families who are food-deprived, including addressing issues related to non-English-speaking families and individuals.
  • Put in place collaborations necessary to ensure that the school division works closely with city and state governments, social service agencies, food banks and other community groups, including religious institutions.
  • Determine the fiscal and budget implications of this new approach to providing child nutrition services (e.g., continuing providing meals during times of closure and virtual learning, addressing sanitation requirements and social-distancing measures in cafeterias and classrooms).
  • Address the emerging issue that as some parents fail to qualify for Medicaid because they don’t meet the work requirements, some students will lose automatic qualification for free lunch, meaning schools will either forgo that reimbursement or have to do more work to get those students qualified.

7. Facilities:

  • Ensure that regardless of the reopening model(s) used (e.g., traditional in-person, bifurcated with some students in school and others learning virtually, all virtual), districts have the facilities needed to accommodate student and staff needs.
  • Address recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding social distancing, sanitation, building cleaning and regularity of facilities upkeep and sanitation.
  • Determine how schools will accommodate the six-feet social-distancing requirement in the face of classrooms that will not accommodate that requirement.
  • Address the fiscal and resource requirements for buildings to be safe, healthy and aligned with CDC recommendations (e.g., thermometers, electronic scanning equipment, wipes and sanitation supplies, requirements for upkeep of sanitation procedures).
  • Determine implications for student, staff, and visitor movement into and through buildings. For example, how will the school office deal with visitors and external staff entering and moving around the building?
  • Address the staffing implications of this enhanced approach to sanitation and building health safety.
  • Ensure that the district develops a range of scheduling options and related technological resources are available to accommodate a range of reopening approaches (e.g., total in-person; bifurcated models using a combination of in-person and distance learning; all virtual).

 

8. Financial Services:

  • Identify the overall budget and fiscal management issues that the district must address immediately considering this crisis.
  • Address budget shortfalls and cutbacks for the current and next fiscal year in light of expanding resource needs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Analyze the budget implications and sources for purchasing COVID-19-related health equipment and resources (e.g., thermometers, testing equipment, sanitation supplies, human resources needed to provide continuous cleaning of buildings and classrooms, etc.).
  • Use federal crisis funding (e.g., CARES Act and follow-up funding allocations) to address these needs while ensuring that we do not engage in “quick fixes,” such as using funding for operational needs such as staffing in light of the funding time limits.
  • Determine the most appropriate chain of communication between schools and central office.
  • Explore the role of the board of education in approving decisions about budget cutbacks and reallocation. How will the district ensure that it is providing meaningful and sustained data and information regarding budgeting and purchasing?
  • Ensure the completeness of the vetting policies and regulations that will need to be considered to guarantee timely acquisition of health and sanitation resources and equipment. Specifically, what procurement protocols will need to be followed? How will districts ensure quality control?

 

9. Human Resources:

  • Assess how budget cutbacks and reductions impact the district’s ability to ensure full staffing.
  • Determine how school and central office staff will receive support in the hiring process given the current limitations associated with the crisis.
  • Address issues related to unavailability of certified teachers in key areas such as mathematics, science, world languages, CTE, etc.
  • Develop action steps in the event students and staff have physical issues that prevent them from returning to a traditional brick-and-mortar building. Will the district need to expand staffing to allow for a combination of in-person and virtual learning, for example?
  • Assess the extent to which policies and regulations related to teacher evaluation and retention need to be revisited and/or modified.
  • Develop recommendations for how administrators will complete informal and formal evaluations.
  • Differentiate practices for providing feedback to teachers who are facilitating learning in various instructional settings (e.g., virtual, small-group, traditional).
  • Determine how the district will address academic areas that require in-person learning if the district continues learning in a virtual context (e.g., Career and Technical Education, Special Education, English Learners, Talented and Gifted, economically disadvantaged/Title I).

 

10. Professional Development:

  • Identify the major professional learning needs of staff returning to school this fall.
  • Ensure that teachers and support staff receive the professional development necessary for them to deliver effective instruction in a virtual format.
  • Modify the professional development calendar to address emerging priorities associated with the crisis.
  • Determine modifications required for opening days and related opening professional learning requirements necessary to address staff needs extending from the crisis.
  • Ensure that the district’s professional development programs include a focus on the psychological, social and emotional needs of staff and students.
  • Reinforce consistency of quality and timing of opening professional development programs so that all staff receive common messages and engage in common focus areas (e.g., distance learning, trauma-informed schools, social-emotional learning strategies, etc.).

 

11. Student Services:

  • Ensure that the district has accounted for all learners, including those who may appear to be “missing” as a result of not participating in previous distance learning or responding to teacher and counselor outreach during the time of school closing.
  • Identify the psychological issues that students and staff will confront as they return to some form of schooling in the fall.
  • Assess the social and emotional issues district staff will need to address related to both students and staff during the reopening process.
  • Anticipate disciplinary issues and problems that may emerge as a result of student trauma, stress, physical issues and family problems.
  • Determine how the district’s student services department will work with schools, city and state agencies, and families and community groups to address emerging issues.
  • Develop action plans for student services to be delivered to learners and their families in virtual contexts, such as tele-counseling and tele-health interventions.
  • Support the needs of homeless and transient students, including students who may have entered or plan to enter the system during school closings.
  • Determine staffing implications related to student services (health, safety, psychological, social, emotional) needed to provide a long-term safety net for students as schools reopen and throughout the academic year.
  • Identify the kinds of professional development necessary to support student service employees as they address emerging needs associated with the crisis and ensure that a range of technologies are used to deliver services during reopening (i.e., to address emergent needs of students and staff with medical issues preventing them from returning to the physical school building).
  • Determine how the Department of Student Services will collaborate with other departments within the school district to maximize services for students who need them.

 

12. Transportation:

  • Identify the transportation issues that will surface if the district reopens using a modified in-person and virtual schedule. For example, how will the district ensure that students know which schedule they are on and when they will be picked up?
  • Determine transportation-related budget implications of the reopening. For example, will the district need more buses if it uses a bifurcated approach to scheduling?
  • Assess the financial implications of transportation issues extending from the crisis and reopening.
  • Ensure that all schools have sufficient staffing to ensure ease of access to schools for all students.
  • Collaborate with local and state agencies to ensure a smooth transportation process as schools reopen.
  • Determine professional development implications for ensuring that transportation staff understand the range of psychological, social and emotional issues that students may bring to school with them during reopening after the crisis.