School districts are under quite a bit of pressure now, as the new 2020/2021 school year approaches. They have to make difficult decisions about operational realities and policies that have to do with public health and safety, as well as learning outcomes.
Here, we’ll talk about how some of the best school district plans are proceeding, and the options that school districts have, given the realities around the coronavirus pandemic.
School district leaders and officials have to contemplate a range of CDC guidelines recommended in order to keep students, faculty, and others safe if and when schools reopen physically.
Major CDC guidelines include:
- – Hygiene and hand-washing: disinfecting the hands after touching surfaces lowers the risk and rate of transmission
- – Staying home when sick: as part of the general social distancing requirements, quarantine, and isolation provide for individuals staying home, either when they are evidently sick, or when they may have been exposed
- – Social distancing: CDC recommends a 6-foot social distancing requirement in public settings
- – Facemask coverings: CDC recommends the use of cloth face coverings when a 6-foot social distancing policy is not possible
All of these broader guidelines have to do with the reality of disease transmission. We know intuitively that schools are a very close and physically dense environment for teachers and students. In fact, some teachers’ unions are pushing back against the idea that schools should physically reopen before communities get a better grasp on how to handle coronavirus moving into the end of this year.
Various Options for School Districts
At the broadest level, school districts have three options:
- Push for complete physical reopening and all of the logistics that come with it
- Commit to a virtual learning model to keep students and teachers out of the physical schools
- A hybrid approach where families get options in which model to elect
These are the three modalities that schools are contemplating, but there’s a lot more complexity to it than that.
The Challenges of Doubling Everything
School boards and school officials face obvious challenges and limitations in trying to physically reopen schools while maintaining policy according to CDC guidelines.
Bus space, classroom space, and the screening of students are three major issues that sometimes seem like intractable problems where the school district only has a given amount of resources.
One transportation director explained it to us this way:
Looking at the district’s prior transportation load, he said, it’s evident that in order to truly implement social distancing in transportation, the district would need double the amount of buses, so that students could be placed one to each seat, instead of two.
That, he noted, raises all kinds of questions about cost, as well as availability – what happens when every district asks local contractors for double the number of buses?
“How do you double everything?” he asked. No one had an answer – at least, not a simple one. However, there are some potential solutions that emerge.
In this context, the hybrid approach seems to provide fundamental immediate solutions to the problem. If half of all families opt for a virtual learning approach, as many districts believe they will, the remaining segment of students gets the social distancing services that they need, without the doubled costs to the district.
Let’s pivot to talking a little bit about the key technologies that drive school district adaptation for the upcoming school year. Allowing students to remain at home is just one of the broader efficiencies that new technology offers to these districts.
A more specific example is illustrated in the Philadelphia school district, the country’s eighth-largest district, where officials embraced a technology plan provided by Fortinet involving transparent and segmented network setups. The school district reports that the network segmentation and related infrastructure eliminated 500 hours of security work by staff professionals!
That’s a prime example of how using available technologies can help school districts to cut costs and maintain all of their responsibilities in a quickly changing environment. Secure Remote Access models solve specific customer problems when having solutions counts, as schools do their best to make the right decisions for students, faculty, and everyone else.
Key Focus Areas of Virtual Learning Technology
To the extent that virtual learning alternatives can be effective, they need to take into account the prime values of in-person instruction. Some of the biggest challenges are around the quality of instructional presentation and student engagement. We know that student engagement will suffer in a virtual space, but how about involving elements of gamification to re-engage students in a new way?
To put it simply, new technological platforms that have these new problems addressed in their design will build the next-generation set of innovative choices that may well improve on traditional classroom models.
Integration Partners can help school districts to make these important choices with multivendor consulting and support. When the best talent and expertise are fundamentally important turn to an established firm that has the track record of helping clients to implement agile systems. With our experience in the private sector and serving government offices, we understand the nuts and bolts of virtual business and civic access, and what that means in a practical context. It’s not one-size-fits-all – we can help you to find the best-customized solutions and mitigate some of the biggest problems with IT in the field.