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Will Schools Open This Fall? Acclimating to the New Normal

By Anna Yen
Will schools open this fall

The COVID-19 pandemic forced teachers and students to resort to remote schooling throughout 2020 and into 2021. As millions of children prepare for the coming school season, safety measures are being debated in communities around the country. 

Schools continue to wrestle between providing a high-quality education and keeping everyone safe. Despite widespread vaccinations, the recent surge in outbreaks has left parents and students alike wondering whether school activities will ever return to normal. 

Keep reading if you’re still wondering, “Should kids go back to school this fall?”

School improvements since March 2020

Ever since the pandemic reared its ugly head in March 2020, schools have taken precautionary measures to keep students, teachers, and staff members safe. Even those who decided to homeschool their children last year might find comfort in the changes that schools have made.

Vaccinations

Starting in mid-December of 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began granting Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for a handful of vaccines. Although full approval had not yet been given, the EUA status allowed healthcare workers, at-risk individuals, and certain members of the public to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.  

On August 23 of 2021, the Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer vaccine for individuals who were at least 16 years old. The vaccine is still available under the EUA for children between the ages of 12 and 15. Vaccines are not yet available to children younger than twelve, at the time of this writing, approximately 53% of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated.   

Social distancing

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, most of us never kept physical distance between each other or thought about how we could prevent each other from getting sick. But ever since the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve received constant reminders to keep our distance, and many students have adjusted to a life of keeping distance to this day.   

Children are encouraged to stay at least three feet apart from their classmates when they are in their classrooms. Schools are encouraged to use outdoor spaces whenever possible to prevent the spread of the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to recommend that people keep a distance of six feet between one another, and school systems are instructing students and faculty members to do the same. 

Masking

Masks can help limit the transmission of COVID-19 indoors. However, mask requirements vary based on where you live. Some schools require all students and teachers to wear a mask when inside, while other schools only require masks to be worn by those who are unvaccinated. But also, some schools allow the parents to decide if their children should wear a mask regardless of their vaccination status. 

Filtration systems

The pandemic continues to highlight the need for adequate air filtration systems in schools. Appropriate ventilation improves the quality of the air we breathe, and it can also reduce any viral transmissions that would otherwise occur by breathing in recirculated air.  

Even before the pandemic, an estimated 41% of public schools reported issues with their HVAC systems. Budget constraints and a lack of planning are the two most common reasons why schools still have dated filtration systems.  

The COVID-19 outbreak has renewed our interest in improving the air quality in schools. As a result, school districts have reallocated budgetary funds to upgrade their air filtration systems.  

CDC school reopening recommendations

The CDC has prioritized students’ ability to return to in-person schooling. Accordingly, CDC school reopening recommendations are continuously updated to help schools reopen safely. 

  • Universal indoor masking for all students, teachers, staff, and visitors 
  • At least three feet of physical distance between students in classrooms 
  • Required to stay home if there are any symptoms of an illness 
  • Preventive measures to reduce the risk of transmission
    • Screening
    • Hand washing
    • Cleaning
    • Disinfecting 
    • Ventilating 
  • Monitored levels of vaccinations, transmission, and outbreaks 

Types of school reopenings 

With many schools having to close as a result of the pandemic last year, students have been looking forward to getting back to normal this fall. Parents who had the challenge of managing quarantine life are also breathing a sigh of relief.

Still, with heightened COVID-19 cases and the new Delta variant, school will continue to look different from what many of us experienced in years prior. Masks, social distancing, vaccines, and COVID cases will continue to shape how schools run.

Here are some common circumstances that schools are anticipating for the upcoming school year.  

Full reopening, face coverings, and social distancing

Students will likely get to attend school in person, but there will be added precautions that are in accordance with CDC school guidelines. For many schools that have chosen to fully reopen, mask-wearing and social distancing will be a prevalent part of everyday classes.  

Some schools will require students to wear masks all day long. Other schools might choose to limit the mask-wearing protocol when students are indoors. Mask policies will likely depend on a school’s ability to ensure at least three feet of distance between students in the classroom. In some cases, like in private schools, masks are entirely optional.

Schools that reopen may focus on keeping doors and windows open as well in an effort to help improve the flow of air inside of classrooms. In many instances, students are no longer changing rooms between classes either. Instead, teachers are moving from one class to the next in an effort to reduce the number of students who are in the hallways at one time. Students are also staying inside of their classrooms during their lunch periods, too.  

Although mask-wearing and reducing movement all around may seem limiting, it’s a preferred approach for many schools that are intent on opening up amid the COVID-19 pandemic. These steps will help to limit the potential transmission of the virus and its variants while still giving students much-needed in-person interactions, which is key to their growth and development. 

Hybrid, virtual, and in-person education 

Schools that follow a hybrid model combine in-person classroom teaching and online activities. This approach gives students the ability to interact with teachers and classmates at school while still limiting their overall exposure to others and the time they physically spend at school. 

Students are typically broken up into smaller groups, and they rotate between in-person classes and online teaching. The goal of a hybrid model of schooling is to reduce students’ exposure to COVID-19 by limiting the number of students who are physically in a classroom. The hybrid model uses online platforms to teach classes for students who are learning from home. 

100% remote learning

Schools that were shut down during the pandemic abided by the remote learning model in which all classwork is conducted online. Schools took advantage of Zoom and other types of video conferencing software to teach children remotely. Cloud-based files were used for lessons and homework, as well as online chat rooms for discussions and group-based assignments.  

While some schools might follow the hybrid model of teaching this coming fall, some schools will still offer students the opportunity to continue learning remotely. If your child or family members are still at risk of contracting the virus more readily than the general public, then remote learning will be the preferred method of learning for your children. 

Should you opt into remote learning for your child this fall, it’s essential that you equip your kids with the right tools. A good internet connection, a reliable computer, and a working printer are all key to helping your child succeed in a remote learning environment. 

Do I have to send my child back to school?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, every state will require school-aged children to attend school. However, the type of schooling your child receives will vary and depend on where you live. 

In addition to public or private schools, your child might be able to attend a charter school, take lessons online, or be homeschooled through the state. As schools begin to reopen, parents might still be wary of sending their children back to school for in-person instruction. 

Whether you are concerned about the rising case numbers in your area or you have a high-risk family member in your household, you should talk to your child’s teachers to find out which alternative methods of schooling are currently available. 

Getting closer to normal this school year

At its onset, the COVID-19 pandemic greatly disrupted our education system. Most students were forced to learn from home, while schools were burdened with the adjustments and learning curves associated with the implementation of remote teaching programs.  

But as students start returning to classes in the fall, schools are taking additional measures to ensure the safety of all students and limit everyone’s exposure to the novel coronavirus. As your child prepares for their first day of school this year, you may need to shell out some cash to buy school supplies and clothing. This can be hard to do if you’re tight on money, but you can get a quick cash advance of up to $250 with Instacash! Just download the MoneyLion app, link your bank account, and tap “Instacash” to get a cash advance to purchase school supplies for your children!

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