COVID-19 Response

US Federation of School Leaders Issues Guide for Reopening Safely

“The American Federation of School Administrators recently issued a new guide for reopening schools safely. Developed by a group of school leaders from around the country, the report suggests that districts are in an untenable position.

There’s no way to create a perfect environment, “no matter how many safety protocols are put in place,” the report stated. “Children and adults will get sick.” As a result, schools will need to shut down, even temporarily, which “will impact education and the social-emotional well-being of communities and families.”

The report pointed out that there were added costs to cover a greatly ramped-up cleaning regimen and “basic sanitary needs” as well as investments for improving online learning programs. AFSA quoted an estimate from the Council of Chief State School Officers, which pegged the additional funding needs at somewhere between $158.1 billion and $244.6 billion to reopen school sites safely and “serve all students in the next academic year.”

And there’s not really consensus on what school leaders should do. A recent AFSA survey among principals and assistant principals in all 50 states found that just 22 percent of respondents said it was “very” or “somewhat likely” they could successfully protect students and staff from transmission of the coronavirus if in-person classes resumed. Additionally, when asked about their preferred model for conducting classes in the fall, half of school leaders preferred a hybrid model–a combination of in-person and remote learning–as the best option; 17 percent designated remote learning; 26 percent chose students going to school five days a week in person for normal days; and seven percent said they were undecided.

The same survey found that most people (53 percent) favored a cohort model, in which one group of students attends in-person classes on certain days, with the other group attending on alternative days. Students would then participate in remote learning when they were home. Also, to manage physical distancing requirements, 60 percent cited a “bubble strategy, which would keep students in the same classrooms throughout the day, including lunch.

But any plan for a school needs to bring a “team of stakeholders” together, including parents, teachers, paraprofessionals, school engineers, custodians, office personnel, district people and students, the latest report urged. By developing a plan “with everyone’s understanding and consensus,” the authors noted, “it will help remove uncertainty and fear.”

The report advised that the plan incorporate guidance in numerous areas, including these:

  • Sanitizing and cleaning to reduce the risk of exposure to surfaces and objects ” before school opens, after closing, and during the course of the school day.”
  • Physical distancing requirements that adhere to the state’s public health and instructional guidelines for reopening.
  • Providing ready access to handwashing stations and sanitizers.
  • Putting screening practices in place for symptom detection, as well as a space for isolation of students who show symptoms. When that space hits capacity, the report advised, “it is probably time to consider closing a school down for a period of time.”
  • Reducing class sizes: a limit of 10 students in a classroom at the elementary levels and five students in recess groups; in secondary schools, limits based on how many students can be accommodated at a distance of six feet apart. Adhering to the rules might require establishment of split schedules and staggered mealtimes, the report suggested.
  • Handling “intermittent quarantine” when necessary, including developing a “virtual learning protocol,” creating a platform for posting work; producing videos for instruction; and offering teacher training “on how to teach online effectively.”
  • Making sure students with diverse needs get the extra attention they need, as difficult as that may be without appropriate funding and with staff shortages.
  • Communicating evidence of contact and cases to families and the broader school community.
  • Providing mandatory training and support for everybody–teachers, students, parents and staff.

“This guide is critical because AFSA members, principals, assistant principals, managers of school bus transportation, food service and student services, just to name a few, are the people on the ground in communities responsible to manage schools and implement any needed safety protocols,” said AFSA President Ernest Logan in a statement. “This guide was designed to help them ask the right questions and engage the community.”

The report is openly available on the AFSA website.”