Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Opening Schools in September

The province is asking for our advice - the public's - in how to open schools in September. As much as I value democracy, getting advice on a public health issue from random people with the time and energy to respond makes me very nervous. Consulting the public might be a means to do something not advised by expert - like business as usual. Banking on the extra stress parents are feeling trying to help their kids through school, they might get just over 50% "advising" re-opening of schools, and then the government can throw it back at us when the death rate starts rising - of our children!!

But, since they asked...

We shouldn't be opening the schools at all until we've got the number of cases WAY down - until it's actually safe to be out in public in groups. We need to follow New Zealand's lead on this, not Sweden's, and definitely not the United States. Right now, we're still not testing as much as Ford promised, and we're not tracking. Canada's still in the "needs action" section of this set of charts, and the bulk of the cases here are in Ontario and Quebec. We should be waiting at least until our daily death rate (which is significantly more accurate than the daily case rate when testing isn't carefully randomized) is in the single digits for three straight weeks or hits some other marker that's been established by experts in the field!!

Absolutely it's frustrating to teach and learn without being in the same room. I hate it!! But I can manage. And we can all get a little better at it a second time around. Students will definitely be at a disadvantage, educationally, but we can re-teach them any weakly acquired knowledge; we can't bring them back from the dead. Even if they get behind a couple years' worth of education, they can still catch up. Even though the virus often isn't fatal for children, having it can lead to lifelong health conditions.

BUT, if opening schools is going to happen before it's completely safe, then here's what I'd like to see happen in the secondary schools:

1. Here's an easy one: bring back grade 13, or at least remove that ridiculous cap on the number of credits allowed. If we want an educated populace, then let's let them learn.
2. Block classes instead of using a rotation system. Instead of four classes a day for 20 weeks, either have us teach one class at a time for 5 weeks, OR have one class each day (Monday is first period, Tuesday is second, etc.). It will eliminate travelling in the hallways and help to ban locker use so students can be expected to go straight from the door to their one class each day.
3. Alternate weeks in case of contraction and to reduce numbers. Have half the students come for one week at a time and then stay home for a week (5 on, 9 off), so there's about 15 in a class instead of 30. There's still no way we'll get 15 kids six feet apart - not in my classroom.
4. Make school just 3 hours a day instead of 5, so we can eliminate lunch and prevent kids from eating at school. I love our lunch program, and students should be able to grab food at school, but then they have to leave to be able to take off their masks in order to eat it. Students will get their lessons at school, then be expected to spend 2-3 hours each day working from home. Students on their "home week" will be expected to spend 5-6 hours each day working from home. The one limitation I found difficult to manage after that three week break was the 3 hours/week/class instead of 6.25. I'd rather managing on a case by case basis, allowing some kids to do the full curriculum and others to do what they can.
5. Institute a full-on mask protocol for every person in the building, no exceptions. We got used to wearing seatbelts, and we can get used to this too. It would be handy if teachers were given face shields so students could better hear us, though.
6. Triple the number of custodians in each school. They were already struggling with too few, and now we need the place sanitized each night.
7. We need hand washing stations outside the building to be used before entering - especially for portables. Washing with soap and running water is significantly more effective than using hand sanitizer. And block the doors open at the beginning and end of the day, so there aren't 1300 people in a row unavoidably touching that door handle! Maybe school will start to feel like one of the music festivals we're all missing this summer!!
8. Personal towels or have paper towels instead of blow driers in the bathroom!!  Blow driers spray the room with any germs left on the hands. I might just bring my own towel each day!

If we do just #2 and #3 together, then we'll reduce the number of students in each class from 120 to 15. That could stop a ton of spreading!

Send your own email, attached as a PDF or Word document, to EDU.consultation@ontario.ca including your name and any affiliated organization, with "Ontario's Plan to Reopen Schools" in the subject line. Maybe if enough of us tell them to ask the experts instead of the public, they'll actually listen!

ETA: Lecce announced, on June 19, that school boards will have to choose between three options:
1. Students return to the classroom
2. Students will learn remotely
3. Students will do a mix on an alternating schedule
But he expects a cautious start with no more than 15 students at a time in any room, and any parent concerned about the virus, can opt to keep their kids home even if the board says we're returning to class full time. SO, teachers will likely be doing a bit of a mix of things, if we are back in September. Fun!!


Gordie Canuk said...

I agree that we have to base decisions on science and evidence, not on emotion. Thankfully as I write this not one single child has died due to Covid-19, unlike seasonal flu which does in fact kills thousands of kids every year around the world, including in Canada. Here's an article from January 2019 about the 6 deaths of Canadian children to that point in the 2018/2019 influenza season.


If we're going to say that schools will never re-open until we're 100% sure that zero Canadian children will become infected....then we might as well have closed schools years ago. I realize that might sound harsh, but risk assessment is something that we've done and continue to do all the time....you cannot eliminate all risks.

Rural said...

Marie, I write not to 'keep my thoughts from falling out of my head' but to get rid of them from whirling around constantly up there so please forgive this little 'rant, as a teacher you are far more in touch with the current situation in the classroom than I. As a senior who left the classroom in the 60s and whose adult children have long since transitioned to 'life learning' I hardly have any great insight into 'modern' learning techniques, never the less I will throw a few thoughts out to make some space for a few new ones!

Firstly I think there is a danger in treating the situation in your area as being the same as in less populous areas. KW is now more like Toronto than the small town feel that I knew some 30 or 40 years ago and distant both physically and socially (and for that matter Covid..aly) from the rural area where I now live. Some communities both in Ontario and elsewhere across our nation are likewise remote from much of this whole pandemic and may in fact consider it more of a panic than a threat.

I note that any gathering of large volumes people and particularly kids will never be 'completely safe' from the spread of disease be it this particular communicable virus or any other, nor has it ever been so in the past. Its a matter of balancing risk against benefit as always, that said I will comment upon your suggestions as to how the risk could be minimized which would be perhaps quite valid if city kids were going back to school this week but perhaps a little over the top for future resumption of in class teaching.

As for consulting the 'experts' all I am going to say is it depends upon who selects the 'experts' to consult, me cynical? Not much!
Since you have a volume limit on comments this is art one....

Rural said...

part two
Having rambled on in this introduction I will now TRY and be brief about the specific items in your article......
bring back grade 13.....
Cant see any downsides to this one, compacting the previous curriculum by a year made choices for seniors courses much more difficult, at least in rural boards where low volumes eliminated some optional courses. Some kids need more time to absorb the material and pressure to 'get it done' by grade 12 does not help.

Block classes instead of using a rotation system. Instead of four classes a day for 20 weeks, either have us teach one class at a time for 5 weeks........
I suspect this one wont fly from the kids point of view, would boredom set in with same subject same teacher each day set in. But then thats life, and how junior school works to a large degree is it not? Perhaps for some kids who have a hard time with constantly refocusing on a new subject it may work well.

Alternate weeks Perhaps one way to reduce class sizes but as you say very hard to maintain 'distancing' and what of all the other 'interactions' that will occur coming and going and eating and just being there. Less time in school for little gain IMHO.

3 hours a day ….why bother, time you get started time to quit AND as I have highlighted several times what of the rural kids, particularly the bused kids who then spend up to an hour each way crammed into a school bus. Not an option.

full-on mask protocol I dont wish to diminish the importance of this protocol where the numbers of cases dictate that such protection may well have reduced the spread considerably but having just spoken to a hospital employee who is mandated to ware such uncomfortable equipment full time at work I feel the chances of it being enforceable in a school setting is very slim.

Triple the number of custodians …...... hand washing stations
No doubt this sort of thing IS going to be needed, probably for some time, possibly years, there will be a whole new outlook when entering public spaces be it schools or grocery stores, how long it will last and how such 'inconveniences' will be tolerated remains to be seen!

There has been much speculation as regards the benefit of 'on line learning' and I can see that in the future there will be a bigger rush to move at least some education in that direction, I for one feel that there is no substitute for a good dedicated and committed teacher in the classroom and have some real concerns as to access issues for rural kids re on line, out of school, 'learning'. Despite what many urban folks think high speed (or indeed any speed) internet is NOT available to all rural kids and not just because of cost issues both initial installation of the required infrastructure and ongoing monthly costs (which is also an issue for some in town folks) but in some cases simply impossible to get a hook up at that particular location. Universal high speed internet service is but a distant dream in much of rural Canada.

PS, I do hope that you will not be too critical of my English composition for I know that I would probably now fail 'English', whilst my favorite teacher was the English teacher fondly known as 'Froggy' (he wore glasses) and despite inhaling the entire collection of novels on the library shelves I am hardly an accomplished writer!

Schoollog said...

At this point epr software are needed with online management, A service targeted for schools to enable cloud based management system and communication between the school and parents.Schoollog

Marie Snyder said...

Sorry - my comments were all going to my spam folder!

@Gordie - While Covid isn't killing many children, children can still spread it to parents and grandparents. This spread is sneakier than the seasonal flu because 45% of positive cases spreading it are asymptomatic, so it's not just enough to make sure sick children (and staff stay home). As long as we can spread ourselves out and wear masks, though, I think we'll be okay.

Rural - You make an important point that different areas have a very different experience with this. Even some school boards are in charge of areas that are huge and some schools with very different situations. It will be hard to have one right answer for everybody, but it would be nice to have one set answer for each school, at least. Your comment is a month old, though, so I wonder if you've changed your view on masks now that (in my parts anyway) they're becoming much more commonplace.