Returning To School Amid COVID-19
What Schools Have Looked Like, What They May Look Like
COVID-19 Stresses For Educators, Parents
The Ministry of Education in Ontario, Canada, just came out late last week - July 30 - and announced their return to school plans for educators and students for September, 2020. To say it basically landed with a big thud would be something of an understatement, and now, educators and many parents - and perhaps some students themselves - are looking at September with a whole lot of trepidation and worry.
There are no clear answers, unfortunately. I suspect that any plan Ontario's education ministry came out with would have been met with outcry, regardless of what was potentially planned. Unless the plan came with a nurse in every school, enough custodians to handle all the cleaning that we are told needs to happen with every student who goes to the bathroom, touches a doorway, or touches their desk, and enough classrooms to allow for students to be at least a meter apart, if not two.
But that's not happening. We've got 500 nurses and some money given to use for hiring more custodians. We've been told that there will be money put towards protective equipment, and we've been told some boards will be taking a hybrid approach to education while others will be expected to take a more full-time approach - and that's just at the secondary level.
There are questions about whether or not educators and students alike are to be tested prior to their return to the classroom, or even how educators will be expected to identify if a student is demonstrating COVID symptoms during class time. At the secondary level, there's even questions about how a semester will look, as typically, at least in an Ontario classroom, most students take four courses a semester, which means they are rotating from one class to the next on a regular basis - and therefore potentially coming into contact with countless individuals who may have been around those infected with the COVID virus.
Right now, there are more questions than answers, and that's the biggest challenge with any sort of back to school plan right now. How can teachers make effective plans for their students if they're not sure that they'll be in the classroom full time, part time or at all? How can they look after their students' education and their mental and physical health all at once?
There are parents deciding whether or not they will resume sending their kids to school in the fall. There are those trying to get their kids used to wearing a mask on a regular basis and still fielding questions about the return to regular school. There are those trying to figure out how to make ends meet if they choose to keep their kids home, and figuring out how to ensure their kids have the requisite equipment to keep them going online through their grade. There are teachers trying to figure out how to balance in-class work and keep the same sort of work available online for those who are staying home for the time being. There are teachers trying to make decisions about their own children and trying to really work on being prepared for the curve balls that could be thrown as far as their children's mental health goes and as far as their students' mental health goes.
In short, there is too much uncertainty, and that has gone on since at least March, regardless of where you might live in North America. That much uncertainty does eventually take a toll on someone's mental health, and that's the sort of condition that educators are likely going to be returning to the classroom in.
It could be a powder keg of emotions and anxiety by the time school resumes in five weeks or so. You've got educators who are, in many cases, parents themselves, if not grandparents, and as the reality of a return to in-person classes continues to hit students and educators with all the subtlety of a shovel to the side of the head, regular classroom stresses will soon be joined by fears of an unseen enemy called COVID-19, educators trying to balance in-class teaching with any online offerings they are also required to provide and feeling pressured to make in-class and virtual classes work at the same time for those students who can't come in just yet, and trying to answer questions for which there may be no simple answers - now or ever.
The bottom line is, the questions won't go away, and none of this will be easy until COVID-19 is eradicated or there's a vaccine keeping us safe. It's a careful balance with trying to find something resembling normal and trying to stay safe, and no one knows what the best answer to cover all the bases is.
Hopefully one day, we will find that answer, and soon.