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File / The Outlook 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a set of recommended guidelines for schools that, if followed, could make the 2020-21 school year look much different.

As schools and parents prepare for what’s to come in the 2020-21 school year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released some recommended guidelines it feels will help with a gradual scale-up of operations for the safety of students and staff.

First and foremost, the CDC recommends maintaining constant contact with local and state authorities on restrictions and mandates as well as working to protect and support anyone considered at high risk for contracting COVID-19.

The three-step process includes remaining closed with E-learning and distance learning, while still offering meal programs if possible, for Step 1.

Step 2 includes opening with enhanced social distancing measures and Step 3 is reducing some of those measures but still restricting attendance from anyone outside the local geographic area.

Some of these guidelines in Steps 1 and 2 include grouping children together and retaining the same staff or support faculty with that group and not intermixing students; canceling any field trips and extracurricular activities; spacing desks 6 feet apart; closing cafeterias, playgrounds and other communal areas; staggering drop-off times; and physically distancing children on the school buses.

“The CDC used words in its guidelines including ‘feasible,’ ‘practical,’ ‘acceptable’ and ‘tailored to the needs of the community’ but it doesn’t list what is doable and realistic,” said Melissa Mullins, mother of a rising autistic senior and special education/autism awareness advocate. “It would be a good idea and practice for these organizations to consult the people they’re trying to govern. They act like they’ve never been in a classroom.”

Substitute teacher and mother of a 13-year-old Joy Johns agrees the suggested instructions seem impractical and will require additional funding for more teachers, buses and resources.

“I hope the CDC is willing to hand out the money needed for extra bus rides and lunches in classrooms,” Johns said. “If they can’t leave the classroom what happens to PE or the library? As a substitute teacher I can tell you, there is not time to clean and teach at the same time and it’s not feasible for a teacher to become a lunchroom worker and (teach) PE, art, et cetera, and still get anything done.”

The CDC also recommends establishing and promoting healthy hygiene practices and retaining adequate supplies.

“I am all for good hand hygiene, wiping down surfaces — those are good social skills,” Mullins said. “This should be made a big deal but the rules have to be realistic but not traumatizing.”

Carly Herrmann, mother of a son going into ninth grade and a daughter still in daycare, is still very worried about the coronavirus spreading and feels putting children together in a school will only increase that risk.

“Schools are large groups of people and they are together all day in confined spaces; it’s very worrisome,” Herrmann said. “How long will this go on? Who will pay if we feel we must reopen schools? It’s a terrifying thought. If schools had to open, I would insist on the strict guidelines to keep my children as safe as possible.”

While some of these recommendations may be more reasonable for some older students, the younger grades could struggle to understand the added isolation and lack of social interaction with their friends while at school.

“Right now, my biggest thing is trying to picture what August looks like,” said Cecily Lee, mother of a third-grader and sixth-grader. “My children are younger and I can’t imagine the challenges the school would face trying to create the space to keep kids distanced and limit PE activities, music, the lunchroom. That would be very difficult on a child throughout the course of a day and on a teacher.”

Mullins also has concerns about the rise of anxiety, depression and issues for children if they must continue to isolate after already having no contact with their friends for multiple months.

“What we’re doing to our kids and students who already have high anxiety anyway because they don’t know what’s going on or understand what’s going on and nobody can explain it to them because the parents don’t know what’s going on,” Mullins said. “You’re adding a whole other dimension of medical conditions. Sometimes school is the only engagement these kids get is at school.”

Challenges have been imposed in all aspects of life due to the coronavirus pandemic and these CDC guidelines could place additional obstacles for teachers and parents as well. 

“I think about the parents trying to have some normalcy and work and support a family,” Lee said. “It’s been a challenge for all families regardless of career paths or number of kids.”

While Lee feels there are so many uncertainties, she agrees children’s safety must be the No. 1 priority.

“The safety of my children is top priority but I’m going to tell you nothing can replace the education they get from a certified teacher in a classroom,” Lee said. “There is no doubt these children will be affected if they can’t get back into the classroom. If we’ve ever seen the true value of a teacher, it is now. We never dreamed we’d face something like this but it’s been a true eye opener and brought a whole new respect for the education system.”

Jim Pearson first-grade teacher and mother of an infant Maggie Dean said the CDC is providing the strict advisements to prepare for the worst-case scenarios. It is important to note the CDC did not mention any timelines in regards to when each step should be in place.

“I’m sure anyone who has read the guidelines are filled with questions moving forward,” Dean said. “However, I don’t want to stress over something that hasn’t happened yet. Our country, state and school system will have students, teachers and staff’s best interests at heart when making decisions about the 2020-2021 school year. For now all I can do is pray and prepare for the worst but hope for the best.”

Some parents are still on the fence about the best approach to take because the coronavirus has created such unpredictability. 

“Jack will be in pre-K and his daycare is opening June 1,” said Jacob Meacham, father of two young children. “I think some of those measures will be in place but overall I think these are just guidelines. Each location is different and should probably use those guidelines differently according to how severe the outbreak is. They do seem a bit extreme but I think health experts probably err on the side of caution, especially when dealing with something that is new and has a lot of unknowns like COVID-19.”

Amy Gray, mother of a rising fifth-grader and eighth-grader, agreed many of these scenarios should be implemented based on individual needs as every home is comprised of different factors.

“I’m glad things are being considered and closely evaluated,” Gray said. “I think it is such a touchy subject for many. There are so many different situations for every household and nothing is one size fits all. We should all respect that and each other.”

Coming from a teacher’s perspective, each school system’s decision Dean feels will benefit the students and staff to the best of its ability.

“I know I can speak for all teachers when I say we miss our students,” Dean said. “We will work diligently to provide a safe, fun and engaging learning atmosphere when we do return to our classrooms.”

Amy Passaretti is a staff writer with the Alexander City Outlook.