90 Questions From a School Administrator to Stop COVID and Our Country From Killing Children
The Trump Administration’s decisions around sending kids back to school full-time will murder innocent people. Full stop.
For background, I spent 7 years after earning my MBA leading operations in primary and secondary education. I made sure schools had everything they needed for teachers to teach and students to learn. The guidelines from the CDC that the Trump Administration is blatantly ignoring (and trying to change) would fall to me to implement.
I am immeasurably relieved I don’t have this responsibility, though I sorely miss working for the betterment of our children, families, and communities. I would be forced to either act against my conscience and those same children, families and communities or quit in protest.
Thus I thank God for making this choice for me.
Still, I’ve spent a lot of time — maybe too much time — thinking about how I would I safely open a school while mitigating danger. Could I clean and organize spaces so kids could learn normally, teachers could teach safely and school administrators and guests could effectively support learning?
No, no I could not.
To open schools full time as the administration suggests would be an unmitigated disaster, with effects exacerbated (as they always are) in poor, Black and Brown communities.
To force open schools is not just careless: it is explicitly racist and classist.
The more we know about this virus, the more we don’t know. We don’t know how it affects young people. We don’t know how it affects the lungs or cognitive abilities. We don’t know if it’s mutations, making it more contagious, are long lasting. We don’t know how long the virus lasts in the air.
But we know children.
We know that our children, our beautiful, brilliant children, are walking Petri dishes, highly susceptible to infection.
We know they can’t sit still. Or social distance. Or consistently listen to direction. We know you have to get close to them to help them. To touch them. To embrace them. We know many of them, for reasons not at all of thier own doing, will not come to school clean. We know many of them live in crowded homes manned by older and/or immunocompromised people. And we know they will likely pass this virus on silently since they’re least likely to show symptoms.
This is as true for our babies as it is for the middle and high schoolers who use their bodies to show affection and anger; this applies to special education students who sometimes need physical redirection for thier own good; and this applies to the sick and immuno-compromised in our schools, who are most at risk for getting sick even if everything was normal.
(As if normal ever existed or was good enough in the first place.)
We also know who works and visits our schools. Yes, many of our teachers are young (perhaps too many), but many are not. Many are the sole breadwinners for their families. Many are older people, again primarily Black and Brown, working early mornings and late nights doing maintenance work and cleaning. There are visitors supporting special education. Parents, guardians, aunts, grandparents — all with a variety of maladies undiagnosed (especially the Black and Brown folk), who walk in and out of school buildings regularly to deliver medicine or hard news, to receive food or support or to share joy.
Schools, then, are not simply for kids: they are active community centers that exist in concert with their communities. You cannot logistically or realistically open a school without people flowing in and out continuously. Even with harsh rules, you will have many, many exceptions to any rules due to circumstance or an inability to hold “offenders” accountable. It will devolve into a shit show.
And as always, the poor will suffer most.
But it is possible kids will defy thousands of years of evolution and listen to directions the first time; that adults will ignore generations of learned behaviors and adhere to all rules; and buildings will magically grow larger and clean themselves thoroughly, completely, and cheaply.
Possible, but not at all likely.
I compiled a thorough (but far from exhaustive) list of “clarifying” questions for anyone considering opening, attending, working or simply setting foot in a school. If I’m wrong, then these answers should easy to provide and readily available to anyone who seeks them.
Will you require every adult who works in the building to be tested? Every child?
If so, how will you enforce this? Will you pay for testing?
Will you also pay for / organize testing for the families of workers? The families of students?
What happens if someone won’t get tested? Will you prevent them from working or going to school?
How often will you require people to get tested? Once a month? Once a week? Several times a week?
Will this be a requirement or a voluntary ask? How will you communicate it?
If someone tests positive, will you require they isolate for two weeks? Will you cover their pay? Will you require their class or coworkers to isolate as well, will you cover their pay?
Will you require Contractors (cleaning, student support staff, etc) to get tested? Visitors? How will you ensure they’ve been tested? If they refuse to get tested, will you withhold payment? What would be the consequence?
How will you react if your contractor refuses to work in your building because your standards are not stringent enough? Or if they’re too stringent?
Will you require masks for everyone in the building? If so, will you provide masks for those who don’t have them? Will you have enough replacement masks to take care of the masks that will surely get lost or soiled because children?
If someone doesn’t want to wear a mask (or doesn’t want their child to wear a mask), will you prevent them from entering school? What would be the reasonable accommodation for these people?
What kind of masks will you require? N-95? Or will any face covering be enough? Will you ask them to be uniform in color or will you allow expression (since many schools have uniform requirements)?
There is a reported shortage on masks. Will schools be required to stay open if masks become limited?
Will you enforce social distancing for students? For staff?
What will your standard for social distancing be based on? CDC rules?
How will social distancing work in small and limited spaces? Will you allow telework for staff?
Often kids will require interactions (and involves themselves in interactions) the flaunt social distancing guidelines. Will you hold them punitively accountable? How will you enforce these guidelines in a non-racist fashion?
How will you care for special education/special needs students who require instruction and support that conflicts with social distancing? Will their IEP/504 plans need to be invalidated?
If a teacher or administrator is forced to interact with students in a way that flaunts social distancing guidelines (ie taking a sick child to the nurse or breaking up a fight) will they be given hazard pay?
What standard will you use to ensure the buildings are clean and disinfected before folk are expected to work? Will you share that standard and allow it to be evaluated by a third party?
What level of cleanliness is acceptable during the day as people are in and using the building? How many additional staff will you need to maintain this level of cleanliness? Where will the money come from to pay for the extra staff and cleaning? Will you communicate to students and staff around expectations?
Will you require staff to clean parts of the building in addition to cleaning staff? Will staff be held accountable for not cleaning areas? Will the be provided adequate cleaning supplies? How will you endure cleaning supplies don’t go home with staff (since they’re hard to find in stores)? Will cleaning become a part of their evaluation? If so, will staff be paid extra as there is now an extra job function not covered in their contract? How will you ensure staff are able to protect themselves while cleaning (ie cleaning instructions, protective clothing, etc)?
Will you limit playground usage?
What will your standards for cleaning or using communal equipment be (keyboards, handles, etc)?
Will you keep teacher lounges open? Teacher refrigerators? What will food service look like to students? To teachers and staff?
How will you react if your building does not meet your standard of safe? Will you communicate this to parents? Teachers? Students?
Monetary and Budgetary Concerns
Who will pay for the extra supplies and support? The school? The school district? The state? The federal government? Will there be a reimbursement or a grant? What will be the requirements for getting this money, if any? Will schools be required to be open a certain amount of hours? Will private schools have access to this pot of money?
Will teachers and administration be paid extra as this is a health risk and they are becoming essential employees? Why or why not?
I imagine enrollment looks off for many schools, and enrollment numbers are how schools are allocated funds. With normal means of recruitment and reaching students unavailable, will the current systems of fund allocation be amended?
Many federal and state grants are predicated on requirements that schools will not meet this year. Is there a general rule around how schools are expected to operate if/when budgeted funds do not manifest?
When a child or adult gets sick, who is ultimately responsible? The classroom teacher? The school? Administration? The cleaning company? The school district?
Will students and workers (and visitors and contractors!) need to sign waivers to enter the building? If one does not sign the waiver, will the be denied an education or a paycheck?
Will schools be required to release testing results? Will the be required to disclose publicly if someone on campus is found to test positive? Will schools require contact tracing? Who will manage this function?
There are often several bodies that have control over a school — a charter board, a city or state Board of Education, the federal Department of Education, the Department of Health — to name a few. Which board ultimately has the final say over which standards your school will follow? How will you communicate this to parents and staff?
Again, this is not an exhaustive list of questions; I am sure I have significant, unacknowledged blind spots. There are an incalculable number of questions that all deserve answers. Yet, the most important question remains:
Why risk it? Why ignore science and precedent? Why rush to send kids back when the preparation is haphazard at best and criminally negligent at worst?
I don’t know, but I have my suspicions about what this is and isn’t about.
I fear isn’t about what’s best for kids educations or health. In fact, this is not about kids at all. It never has been. It, sadly and unsurprisingly, never is.
People will not go back to work and the economy will not “restart” if kids continue to stay home and families are compensated for the inconvenience. This is simply about forcing people to work.
It’s all about the dollar. It always has been. It always will be.
(An aside: There’s also an argument to be made that if you distill learning to an online course book and a teacher, then many private schools largely become obsolete. There is no rational reason to pay the money for something you can get equally as well for free. There are no sports. No extra curricular activities. Nothing but the same thing your public school offers, without the racist, classist fear of interacting with “those people.” The racism that drove people out of public education may ironically incentive parents to return. And this would ruin many private schools, especially and specifically the ones that exist solely to house disaffected whites.
This plan then may not only genocidal, but a means of preserving racist hemogeny in education.)
I am very much aware that kids need school and the ancillary services they provide. That parents need a break. That we cannot keep on this route forever.
That is why we need strong, cohesive, empathetic and intelligent leadership to set the country up for success. The sniveling, cynical, seemingly suicidal administration we work under now is the complete opposite.
Still, I wonder: if I a absolutely had to open a school, how would it operate? What is the bare minimum standard for opening based on my experience?
- I would use two days a week for in class instruction and three days a week for online instruction.
- The school building would only be occupied four days a week: it would be empty on Friday for a once weekly deep cleaning. No one would be allowed in during weekends.
- Masks would mandated for all who enter the school and provided for all who enter the school.
- All staff would receive hazard pay and would have their insurance premiums covered for the duration of the pandemic.
- All cleaning and related maintenance would be the responsibility of a third party paid for by the federal government.
- Empty office buildings and the like would be utilized for school if a school building is unfit or unable to be adequately cleaned.
- There can be no gym, sports, extracurricular activities, awards, or other programming on campus.
- Teachers, students and support staff would be tested at least twice a week, and testing would be available continuously throughout the school day to all in the school community who need it. This testing would be mandatory.
- If anyone in the school contracts the virus, the whole school is shut down for a week: the class the student was a part of gets mandated testing and must quarantine until test results return.
Even then, it would still be a bandaid. Kids would still ignore orders. People would still wear masks below their nose. Sick people would still come to work asymptotic. The virus would still spread, though hopefully slower.
There is no good way to do a bad thing. Our country has tried and failed to do so in smaller ways before. One only wishes our Government learned as well as the children they purport to serve.
We cannot return to normal. This would be a death sentence for too many in the community. Please ask the hard questions. Do not let up or let your guard down until they (schools, boards, governments) give the honest answers and own responsibly for the results.