Working Together to Safely Reopen Our Schools

Opening schools will require trade-offs and sacrifices, creativity and innovation, and most of all, cooperation and partnership.

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Communicator
June 2020, Volume 43, Issue 10

Most public schools in the nation closed their doors to traditional learning in March because of the coronavirus outbreak and moved for the first time ever to distance learning. Since then, we’ve all been in survival mode. 

Food insecurity for children, lost jobs and wages for family members, navigating distance learning, limited availability of crucial school funding, and more than 100,000 American lives lost to the pandemic are just a handful of issues families and educators have been dealing with. Add into that civil unrest because of police violence against Black people, and it’s safe to say 2020 will go down in history, at the very least, as a year that brought about change to the country.

Some school systems made the transition to virtual education rather seamlessly, while others struggled to do so. Regardless, there is universal acknowledgement that the education delivered during a pandemic could never (and was never intended to) replace the authentic, high-quality learning experiences that teachers deliver to children in classrooms.

Cooperation and Partnership

As organizations with a vested interest in ensuring children’s well-being in this moment and beyond, it will be a busy summer for us. We are the National Labor-Management Partnership—a group of the professional associations, including NAESP, that represent America’s leaders in education. We are a coalition that accepts responsibility for creating a public school system that affords every child, in every community, a great education. 

There are many, many decisions to be made in the months to come, in preparation for the 2020-2021 school year. The challenge, simply put, is to figure out the policies, procedures, and logistics to deliver the most effective educational experiences possible to the nation’s children in the context of a global pandemic. There will not be one way to do so that works for every community. Deciding what to do and how to do it will involve trade-offs and sacrifices. It will require creativity and innovation. And most of all, it will require cooperation and partnership.

While the task at hand seems daunting, there is good news that we believe should come as a relief to the school district leaders grappling with this enormous challenge: You are not alone in making these decisions. The best solutions will be found when all education stakeholders come together, ensuring that the leaders’ choices are informed by the expertise of educators and the deep understanding of those who are closest to the students and their families. 

The Next Steps

Much has been written about the specific choices to be made. Organizations have offered resources and guidelines intended to help leaders be thoughtful about these choices. As a coalition, however, we wish to offer something concrete that addresses how education decision-makers should go about including all of the voices required to make the best decisions in this moment. 

In a new brief, Collaborating in a Crisis: Working Together to Safely Reopen Our School Buildings, we urge administrators, school board members, and other school system leaders throughout the country to establish a partnership to safely reopen schools and to create collaborative decision-making structures that maximize stakeholder voice in the myriad decisions to be made. The document offers a timely and realistic way for school systems to parse out the seemingly overwhelming work at hand into manageable groups, wherein education stakeholders come together with the leadership, experience, and expertise needed for the best solutions to emerge.

No matter your role in education, we believe your voice is important and that there should be space for your contributions. Our intention is to help make that happen. As a broad coalition of education stakeholders, we know that together we can co-create the solutions that America’s students and their families need to ensure the quality of their educational experiences and to protect the future of public education in this uncertain time.

Let’s stay safe, and let’s get to work.

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