COVID-19 Response

7 Steps for Sending Kids Back to School

Give families and teachers the option of full-time remote learning for elementary grades in the next school year; shift to an every-other-day schedule for older elementary kids and let K-3 students attend every weekday; limit classrooms and school buses to half-capacity; and require masks, lots of hand-washing and strict stay-at-home guidance for sick students. These are among the ideas proposed by Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham institute, in a recent column he wrote on how to send "elementary kids back to school and parents back to work."

7 Steps for Sending Kids Back to School

Petrilli prefaced his suggestions with three assumptions:

  • That the goal of "social distancing" was to reduce the spread of the virus, "not to reduce to zero the risk of transmission." That means he explained, that those most at risk can't be put in harm's way, requiring that teaching and learning from home have to remain options.

  • That parents must be able to head back to work, which means the youngest kids who can't be left on their own at home need to go to school each day for at least half a day, "though remaining at home must remain an option."

  • And that "plans must be affordable," although as Petrilli pointed out, there's little "political appetite" for providing additional resources to schools even as schools will need to practice physical distancing "while also coping with major budget cuts."

By providing both remote and in-person instruction, the physical distancing will be easier for schools to achieve, Petrilli noted. He envisions schools setting up their own online schools with "stay-at-home teachers" teaching the "stay-at-home students" or possibly outsourcing that option to online school companies.

Petrilli's thinking about sending the youngest kids into school every day also includes having the older students (fourth and fifth graders) go in every other day. "While it’s hardly ideal, fourth and fifth graders can do some independent work and can be left at home during the school day," he wrote. Besides, that would also allow for more physical distancing in classes and on buses.

In locations where the thought of leaving those grade 4 and 5 students at home isn't palatable, Petrilli advised, perhaps districts could use middle schools or high schools to house classrooms for them, and have middle and high schoolers stay at home more often.

The article also advised a grouping process, where the same set of 10 to 12 children stay together, aside from on the bus or at recess. These groupings would be taught by teachers who moved from class to class (while still keeping their physical distance).

As a final step, schools need to have "a clear plan ready to go if an outbreak occurs." While the approach Petrilli offered "should significantly reduce the risk of a 'super-spreader'" outbreak, that could still happen, he acknowledged.

The article provides a prototype weekly schedule for a fictional school, Lincoln Elementary. The article with full details about the seven steps is openly available on the Fordham Institute website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.