We are all unschooled where schooling amid a pandemic is concerned. Whether on public or private campuses, children and adults interacting in the process of learning are all confronting the same risks of infection by the coronavirus.
Whenever schools open for face-to-face learning, each will make its own discoveries about what works. These are lessons that can be learned and shared among schools, instead of repeating mistakes over and over.
The first private schools opened this week. Parents and teachers are watching nervously, as reports pop up of COVID-19 cases among students at Sacred Hearts Academy and Punahou School and among staffers at Iliahi and Kaala elementary schools in Wahiawa. And this is before classes have even begun.
Gov. David Ige on Friday said the first month of public school, starting Aug. 17, would be distance learning on Oahu; the teachers union had favored instruction online for the first quarter, statewide.
Questions continue to swirl. Can the state Department of Education online/classroom “hybrid” plan really work? Do face shields function better than cloth masks? Which learning activities are adaptable for on-campus delivery, and which won’t translate?
Finally, teachers want more DOE guidance on criteria for closing schools in the event of new cases.
The only thing that seems guaranteed is that whatever schools try on their first stumble-through in the coming weeks, the landscape a few months later will look completely different.
There is no set formula that can be imported successfully without the background infection rate being driven down first. Ideas piloted in other countries have succeeded in countries such as Denmark but not in Israel, which tried dividing classes into more easily controlled “bubble” sub-groups. Infections followed when the bubbles turned out not to be impermeable; kids got out and about.
How low a case rate is low enough? The sense so far is that the neighbor islands could try it, but Oahu schools seem poised for a very limited reopening, at best.
All this will need to drive educators to find effective ways to teach remotely, and find some way to make the experience a little more sociable. It’s a huge challenge, given the uneven access to technology among public school families. But the kids are deserving of adults who improvise new ideas, and share them with anyone willing to try.