Back to school preparation for parents has been fairly standard in the past. You make sure your kids have their required boosters and that they’re registered with your school. Then you hunt down their school supplies list and start stocking up. If you’re an employer, you really don’t prepare for back to school unless your employees are full time students, so you need to shift schedules around, or you know that some of your employees will ask for some last minute PTO to take care of sick kids.
When the Coronavirus hit in the spring of 2020, there was a scramble when schools suddenly shut down and switched to virtual learning. The entire country was experiencing some kind of upheaval. A lot of leeway and grace were given to parents who were trying to figure things out. They had to manage childcare and home schooling and work. That’s all. Many Zoom work meetings took place with kids playing in the background or a baby being bounced on a lap. After a rough first month, people realized this COVID-19 thing wasn’t going away any time soon, and we all settled in for the long haul. We slowly but surely figured out how to operate with both kids and parents confined to the home.
Now it’s August of 2020. Most school districts are changing plans daily because the mandates they’re given by their state education agencies, their governors, their local governments and health agencies are in constant flux and sometimes contradictory. And that means you probably have no clue whether or not for sure your child will be virtual or online for school, and you probably have no idea what their daily schedule will be.
If you have a school age child, below are considerations to keep in mind for the upcoming school year. If you don’t have kids, but you work with employees, direct reports or business contacts who do have children, the following will help you keep in mind that others around you might have to take care of unexpected shifts in their personal lives during business hours – pivots that might affect your project timelines.
You might think this is an odd way to start out explaining possible school schedules, but this will help you understand why schools will do what they’re going to do. School districts get most of their funding from state allocations based on attendance and federal programs based on the number of meals they serve. If schools don’t get the funding they need, your kids won’t have teachers, or their campus might have to shut down due to a cutback.
Many districts will be setting up “take out” meals for their students who are on free breakfast and lunch programs. Campuses that participate in this federal program receive funding for each meal they serve. If they don’t serve these meals, they will not get funds, so campuses will be coming up with creative ways to get families to participate in their meal programs. You might think, “If they don’t have to serve the food, they don’t need the money for the food.” This is a logical thought, but remember this is a decades-old government program, so it’s not logical. School cafeterias profit from this program and can use the profit to fund the rest of their cafeteria budget or other budget areas. This is why even though schools might be required to shut down, they will push hard for families to come on pick-up days.
Pre-COVID-19, attendance was taken on campus each day at a certain time and reported to the state. During the shutdown in the spring, attendance was temporarily waived because no one knew how the heck to handle anything. This fall will be different. States are implementing required minimal attendance for onsite or virtual learning, as well as specific documentation requirements schools must provide to prove that students were present for learning.
In the spring, most schools counted a student present for the nine weeks if the child simply registered online for their teacher’s class. Most schools instructed their teachers to give students a passing grade if they simply made contact with their teachers a couple of times during the shutdown. The common message from administrators to teachers was, “These are unprecedented times. Not all your students have access to technology. Many of your students live in households where parents have lost jobs, and their focus is not on school; they’re focusing on survival. Be patient and forgiving during this period.” In other words, there was no attendance policy, and academics were extremely lax for many students.
That will not be the case this fall. Most states have already mandated the minimum number of teaching minutes whether onsite or virtual. Minimum curriculum standards will have to be met. There will be assignments. There will be assessments. There will be required contact with parents. Students will need to attend virtual classes at specific times and complete work in order to pass. And teachers will have to prove that all of this happened.
Schools are trying to figure out how to incorporate social distancing if classrooms were already filled to the gills before the pandemic. Since schools can’t double the number of classrooms they have, they either have to spread the students out into non-traditional classrooms like auditoriums, gymnasiums and cafeterias, or they need to cut the number of students who will be on campus. If they choose the latter, they might opt for half the students attending in the morning and the other half in the afternoon, or half the kids attending on Monday and Wednesday, and half the kids attending Tuesday and Thursday, with Friday being a tutoring or enrichment day. Or, school districts might offer the parents a choice of onsite or virtual, with teachers live streaming their onsite lessons to their virtual students. If there is an incident of one or more students testing positive, the entire school might shut down for two weeks at a time, during which all students will transition to virtual learning.
We’ll set aside the fact that in the spring, your child had already developed a six-month relationship with their teacher, so communication was easier because they knew each other. Communication dynamics would make this long blog post even longer, so we’ll save that conversation for a different time. Instead, let’s just concentrate on schedules.
Schools that are opting to begin their school year with virtual learning have a variety of schedules. Some are mirroring their onsite schedule, so students will attend distance learning classes on the same days and times as their traditional onsite schedule. Others are setting up modified schedules which require students to attend their virtual class for a shorter amount of time than they would onsite, but they will have more independent work. You’ll hear the terms “synchronous learning” for required virtual class time with teachers and “asynchronous learning” for the independent work your child will need to complete – watching videos, reading books or articles, participating in virtual scavenger hunts or other activities, and submitting their work through some type of online portal by a given deadline. Your child’s school will most likely have a different schedule than what they had in the spring. Chances are that since this is yet another new way of doing things, what they set as the schedule for the first week of school might end up changing as they work out the bugs and scheduling conflicts. As schools attempt to re-open, some students might stay virtual while others transition to onsite. The schedules might change yet again during these transitions.
How to Prepare for Back to School
After reading all of these possible scenarios, you might have already come to the conclusion that the best way for you to prepare is to be ready for your children’s schedule to be unlike anything you’ve ever experienced – and that this schedule could change at the drop of a dime. So, to be ready for anything, here are some questions to consider:
*What schedules or arrangements did you make in the spring that worked?
*What schedules or arrangements did you make (or schedules or arrangements that you didn’t make) that either didn’t work and shouldn’t be repeated, or would need to be reviewed and tweaked if tried again?
*Does your child have a quiet place to attend school virtually and complete schoolwork during traditional school hours?
*If you must work from home, is there enough internet bandwidth for you to attend virtual meetings and your child to attend virtual class?
*If your child will attend school onsite, who will drop them off and pick them up?
*If your child will attend school onsite, but the school is suddenly shut down, what arrangements do you need to have ready to go for their care and virtual learning set-up?
*Either as your main plan or your contingency plan, is there a former teacher, home schooling group, or small day care center that is accepting small groups or pods of kids to teach and monitor on school days?
*Are there any of the above that will offer their services to you only one or two days per week (instead of a normally-required five), which would allow you to get even more work done from home on those days?
*What family calendar will you use to help keep track of everyone’s schedule?
*Do you prefer to have a household conversation each morning or each evening or both to talk about the schedules for the upcoming couple of days, who needs to do what and where, and who needs help with what?
*When each week can you make time for individual and family fun time so all of you can decompress and relax?
*Where can you keep your answers to these questions? In a digital document or posted on a sheet of paper? This will be your running list of possibilities and resources. When we’re unexpectedly asked to make a hurried decision, our brains often go into temporary panic mode and don’t think clearly. Having your running list handy will help you gather your thoughts more quickly and make a better decision for your situation.
Communication Will Be Key
It will be important to monitor communications from your child’s school so you can stay updated on schedule changes and policy changes. It will be equally important to communicate daily with everyone in your household and/or everyone involved with childcare to make sure you’re all on the same page. It will be just as important to keep your business contacts apprised of your situation. While they don’t need a daily report on what your schedule will be like because they have their own issues they’re most likely juggling and dealing with, if there’s something in your life that’s changing and this change will affect the work you do, it will be critical to keep those affected in the loop as to any timeline adjustments.
If your brain is about to explode from reading all of this, take a deep breath. Go for a walk – even if it’s just in circles around your work area or home. While this might seem overwhelming because you’re ingesting so much in one sitting, it’s better that you have this type of information ahead of time so that you have time to mull over possibilities.
Take another deep breath. You’ve made it this far. You can get through anything!