MORE CHOICES IN SCHOOL RE-OPENING AND ECONOMIC RECOVERY

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The Covid-19 Pandemic has forced students and teachers into unsafe, poorly distanced enviroments; inadequate balance between online learning and social interactions with classmates; difficulties in keeping students engaged when the online learning has no reasonable teacher support component for those struggling with the process; and joblessness for many parents who must stay at home with their 5-13 year old online students. Many times, these parents are unable to provide the educational assistance to their kids because they are not trained to do so. 

K-12 schools went through a very stressful Fall planning for re-opening due to Covid-19. Currently, we are having yet another surge in cases, and especially ICU admissions. As this whole dilemma unfolded this summer, I realized, as some school officials did, that there is no one size-fits-all solution, due to school district dissimilarities in size, space and faculty numbers and training.

In addition, there are the current infrastructure capabilities not just with the schools, but community spaces and parental resources. The current choices for a learning environment comprise the following:

Home learning online (limited by hardware, internet access, parental availability and parental capabilities in assisted learning).
Home schooling (can be traditional paper-based modules or can be online tech company provided modules)
In school learning.
These hardware, software and human interaction dependent modes of learning, especially for K-12 are challenging. There are potential resources that may be used by some communities, that may be unique to those communities. Some Districts can utilize non-school buildings to expand social distancing, but on a national scale, this is being done only in a minority of cases.

What we can do differently?

In school learning as mentioned before can be staggered to provide some very needed social interaction, especially with special needs children, like my daughter when she was younger.
Non-school premises can be utilized by some communities as I mentioned above, either with school faculty or vetted retirees and other options.
My idea is to expand online supervised learning with real teachers and tutors, in additional newly built internet libraries. This expansion and it’s costs I will outline below. This I feel, is the crucial piece missing from this pandemic schooling puzzle, but I will show how it can be a long-lasting improvement.

If we built 500 internet libraries on average, per State, and, I would add 50 for Puerto Rico and 25 for DC, at $400,000 each that would cost $10.03 Billion. These internet only libraries would be bookless, have scientific social distancing requirements, and staffed full-time and part-time by a combination of school staff and vetted volunteers which could include retired teachers with some extra benefits added.

I would spend $10 Billion on increasing the number of internet satellites because fiber would take too long. This should have been done months ago or at least started weeks ago. The ideal setting here is to have paid and volunteer adult staff to assist in watching and helping these kids go to school while the parents are able to work and don’t need childcare. This last point is desperately needed to re-open our country economically and educationally.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019, 33.4 million families, or two-fifths of all families, included children under age 18. We need to get these people back to work so they are not home trying to tutor/supervise their kids with their online learning, many of whom are not qualified to do so. 

If the day is staggered then the work schedules for the parents can be taken into account.  It’s the best we can do at this point. For overnight workers, there would have to be special arrangements. Bottom line..out of work parents of 5-13 year olds will not be able to pay their bills as time goes on and they cannot afford daycare in many instances. https://time.com/5836309/coronavirus-childcare-working-families/

The details of the above can certainly be hashed out, but this needs to really happen prior to January of 2021 to radically change our above declines. I've included a clip of a 57-story building being erected in China in 19 days. We can certainly build a no-nonsense internet library in a week if needed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6f_sayw0mM 

If you have read this and your educational organization decides it should get forwarded to the federal Department of Education and Congress for implementation after further discussion, please sign my Change.org petition please!

Written by Dr. Scott Noren

Doctor, Army veteran, father of a special needs daughter, activist/politician