Illustration for article titled How to Judge Whether Your School District Is Doing Enough

Photo: Arif_Photolove1990 (Shutterstock)

I keep waiting for that moment when the image of what school will look like this fall goes from murky as hell to something at least sort of visible. In-person schooling comes with a huge community health risk. All-digital learning is difficult for some students and impossible for others. And some combination of the two is a logistical nightmare for working parents. It’s like choosing one bruised apple from a bin of bruised apples—which one is most rotten on the inside?

A few large cities—New York, Los Angeles, San Diego—have announced back-to-school plans that are either partially in-person or entirely online. Meanwhile, the Orange County Board of Education is recommending the exact opposite—a return to full-time, in-person learning with no masks or other social distancing requirements. And many of us are still holding our breath, unsure where our own districts will land on the spectrum of “ugh” to “yikes.”

So much of this is out of our control. Our personal preferred strategies may not even be feasible. You may want to homeschool but still have to work. You may want to pay someone else to homeschool but don’t have the room in the budget to do so. You may want them in school full time and now find yourself scrambling, once again, to figure out how to manage their education at home.

But, but, there is one small thing you can do. One tiny little needle of control among the haystack that is this pandemic. You can comb through this report, authored by researchers and professors from the Harvard School of Public Health’s “Healthy Buildings” Program. And then you can compare it to your school district’s plan (whenever you get that) and see where the discrepancies are. Because once you know where the discrepancies are, you can advocate for safer measures with your parent-teacher organization, school administration, the superintendent or the school board.

The report outlines recommendations for five aspects of in-person schooling:

  • Healthy Classrooms
  • Healthy Buildings
  • Healthy Policies
  • Healthy Schedules
  • Healthy Activities

The authors give summaries, background and risk reduction strategies for each of the five categories. There is a lot in this report—it’s 62 pages long—but it’s organized in a way that makes it easy to skim if you’re looking for specific recommendations around, say, mask use, as well as more detailed background on the challenges we’re facing.

Of course, the usual caveat applies: There are loads of suggested strategies here, not all of which will be feasible in every school or every classroom setting. But noting how many or how few of these strategies your district is implementing may help you determine whether they’re doing enough—or at least as much as they possibly can—to incrementally cut down on the risk if they decide to move forward with in-person education.


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