How US schools are reckoning with the coronavirus
Monday, March 09, 2020
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has reported that 290 million students worldwide are out of school due to the coronavirus. The outbreak that emerged in China about two months ago has now claimed over 3,000 lives and infected more than 100,000 people globally.
In the U.S., there are now over 500 cases confirmed, and the death toll has risen to 22.
As the United States deals with the coronavirus, the big question is: How are schools planning to respond?
The continuity of learning is essential, especially for differently abled children and disadvantaged youth. But temporary school closures are imperative, given the global scale and speed with which the virus is spreading.
According to the CDC, the widespread transmission of the novel coronavirus is leading to precautionary measures like schools, child care centers, and other places for mass gatherings shutting down. Parents whose children are sick are being asked to keep them home and monitor local school closings. Most school districts are asking them not to panic and use their discretion about sending children to school.
This winter has seen one of the worst flu seasons, and some schools had to close for influenza. School nurses have been under pressure to deal with the flu season. The coronavirus and maintaining student safety will add to that workload.
For the coronavirus, however, school closures will be calculated based on the extent children carry or transmit this virus. But we have little data at hand right now to reach an informed decision. As the CDC pointed out, children’s lives might be disrupted, and districts need to plan and prepare for the worst.
In Washington state, a handful of schools have already closed down. Jackson High School in Snohomish County closed for cleaning when a boy tested positive for the coronavirus. Bothell High School, located in a Seattle suburb, was closed for cleaning as well when a relative of the school staff was tested for the coronavirus. In Oregon, an elementary school in Lake Oswego will be closed for a week and undergo cleaning after an employee tested positive.
On the East Coast, five schools in the Central Bucks School District in Pennsylvania have been closed down after exposure to an out of state visitor who tested positive for coronavirus.
Schools and districts across the country are focused on prevention and communication. They are in touch with state and local health departments to figure out the best practices to contain the outbreak if cases are positive in the area. They are also working on reviewing and updating their infectious disease response plans.
Some schools may implement social distancing to prevent an outbreak. Classrooms can be incubators for viruses, so dividing each class into a smaller group may be a good idea. Some are thinking of spreading students out in a classroom setting and keep them at least three feet from each other. In severe cases, isolating a sick student or closing a school entirely will supersede social distancing.
Thankfully, K-12 digital tech may prevent a complete disruption of learning. With the help of laptops and iPads, schools can continue teaching students online without a prolonged interruption.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools has already announced that it will distribute over 200,000 electronic devices to students in the event of school closures. Other districts are looking at online solutions as well so that education can continue at a distance with the help of devices with digital content. For cash-strapped districts with limited resources, authorities are preparing instructional packets for students to take home.
Some experts say that the U.S. is better positioned than most for a coronavirus outbreak. Its modern hospitals, sprawling public health infrastructure, and top-notch scientists may come to its aid. State and local governments may use their discretion and have broad powers to quarantine.
Schools and businesses are beginning to confront the logistics of enduring a possible pandemic and setting up emergency plans. However, most of these resources are concentrated in populous and wealthier districts. Neglected communities are at higher risk, and the government has to take that into account.
Authorities are asking everyone to follow basic prevention methods like washing hands for at least 20 seconds several times a day and staying home when sick. To keep germs from spreading, students and teachers should avoid touching their noses, eyes, or mouths. Schools should wash and disinfect high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs and desktops. More information can be found on the CDC and the U.S. Department of Education websites.
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