Things are certainly changing with the spread of Coronavirus across the country. Every day seems to bring new announcements, closures, curfews, and quarantines. With so much inconsistency, I feel lucky to live and teach in Kansas, where there is, at least, a little sense of consistency in the governor’s decision to close schools.
Thursday, March 12, was the turning point in my life as it relates to the Covid-19 pandemic. Leading up to this day, I was concerned, I was watchful, but I wasn’t “affected.” It wasn’t until the cancelation of a school-sponsored trip that the Coronavirus became “real.” After that moment, student questions started flooding in. What is going to happen? Is it going to cancel school? Do kids my age get this? As a teacher, I wanted to make sure my students felt safe, and yet, I didn’t know how to answer their questions. With only one more day until spring break, my focus was to maintain a sense of normalcy. If I could keep an atmosphere of structure in my classroom, then I could help alleviate the persistent undercurrent of worry that seemed to hum throughout the school.
When classes dismissed for spring break, teachers brought home materials and supplies in preparation for a scenario in which schools were to close. From that point on, it seemed like we were all living hour-by-hour. Something new would break on the news each day. By Monday schools, were shut down until April 3. Then on Tuesday, just one day later, the governor decided to shutter schools for the rest of the year.
I was devastated. So many emotions passed through me at once. I questioned Gov. Kelly’s decision, was it too rash? As the days passed since the official decision to close schools, I’ve had the opportunity to see this in a new perspective. I think Kansas got it right. To date, we are the only state to officially close schools for the year. I’m sure more states will follow this model, but here is why this is the best decision for everyone.
- By officially shuttering schools, districts can function with a sense of direction. They aren’t stuck in a pattern of uncertainty, always wondering if they will need to plan for more online lessons or if they will be returning to the classroom at some undetermined date. Due to this, they can focus on a plan for student learning. They can provide their teachers, students, and staff direction and a sense of consistency.
- The state was able to create a task force that would evaluate the goals of continuous learning online and provide guidance to districts. This process takes time. Choosing to make the decision definitive allows everyone to move forward. Kansas moved quickly and created its Continuous Learning Guidelines through an assemblage of teachers, leaders, and administrators from across the state. I anticipate other states to use these recommendations and guidelines as a model. The focus is on essentials. What do we want kids to do, and what is reasonable for ensuring they don’t fall behind come fall?
- Families can make appropriate plans for the rest of the year. It is difficult to find childcare, especially if you are in a job that is considered “essential.” Officially, closing schools allowed families to make permanent arrangments. This scenario is much better than the alternative of being stuck in a pattern of unknown. Repeatedly having to find childcare every two weeks as states and districts “re-evaluate” the situation is overwhelming.
- It stops the spread of the virus. It should go without saying, but there are a lot of people out there who are under the impression that kids are immune to getting Covid-19. At the time Gov. Laura Kelly closed schools, the CDC advised all gathering be kept to under 50 people. Many argued that school classrooms were 30 students or smaller (a controversial statement that many would dispute…but this isn’t a discussion on class sizes). Therefore, schools would meet the CDC guidelines. But schools, mainly middle and high schools, have large lunch rooms and congested passing periods. Keeping schools open would potentially allow the virus to spread among a young population, and any teachers, students, or state who are considered “High Risk” to Covid19 would be vulnerable.
On Tuesday, March 24, the Kansas City metro area will a Shelter-in-Place order that will last for 30 days. I am still on my Spring Break, but I’m confident in my district’s response. They have been working hard to prepare for the rest of the school year. Communication with faculty, staff, and students have been clear and factual. I am relieved that I don’t have to worry about an ever-changing schedule.
Similar to other regions of the country, we are experiencing rapid changes, and I, for one, am certainly grateful that I feel a sense of direction in a world of constant uncertainty.