In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual education has become the new normal for nearly 1.5 billion children across the globe. Last spring, the dreaded virus forcibly closed the doors of nearly every public school, causing disturbances in education systems worldwide. According to The Heritage Foundation, over 91 percent of children began schooling from home in order to prevent a revival of cases (Burke). However, in recent months, various countries have reopened their public schools. Surprisingly, many of these newly reopened schools have discovered their attendees to be lacking in noteworthy outbreaks of the Coronavirus. These successful reopenings might prompt other countries to reinstitute public education. Nonetheless, because the threat of COVID-19 continues to persist, the enforcement of systems that may prevent the transmitting of the virus is unequivocal. Furthermore, several schools worldwide serve as precedent school models for countries that are considering reintegrating public education.
In recent months, the demand to reinstitute public education has been at an all time high. Parents and educators alike believe that the lack of in-person education options causes great harm to their children and students. As a matter of fact, current evidence from the Common Wealth Fund’s website, indicates a greater prevalence of academic regression in students who are attending online school (Barton, Parekh). Additionally, a recent report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine reported by The Commonwealth Fund’s website compels school districts to prioritize safely reopening schools full time as a necessary prerequisite for the mental health of all students (Barton, Parekh). In spite of the dangers, thousands of people worldwide are rallying for the reinstitution of public education, protesting that the rarity of coronavirus cases among children is a sufficient enough reason to resume in-person schooling. According to The Kaiser Family Foundation, “the reported number of COVID-19 deaths among children under the age 18 in the U.S. is less than 1% of reported COVID-19 deaths” (Michaud, Kates). Furthermore, a recent study done by the National Academies of Medicine details that over 90 percent of children testing positive for the virus will have mild or no symptoms and most children who do contract the virus will eventually recover (Michaud, Kates). Despite this, susceptibility and transmissibility of the virus is still prevalent amongst children and a resurgence in cases may occur if schools decide to reopen. Senior associate dean for clinical research and distinguished professor Dr. Rainu Kaushal remarked that “school reopening decisions need to be informed by the current infection rate of a given community” (Weill Cornell Medicine). Recently, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) reinstated a series of updated considerations for schools across the U.S, intending to aid educators and school administrators in their decision making. Appraising the health, wellbeing, and overall safety of students, teachers, staff, families, and communities alike, the CDC recommends that schools promote behaviors that reduce COVID-19’s spread, maintain healthy environments and operations within schools, and prepare in advance for someone contracting the disease (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
Taking into consideration the benefits of reinstating in-person education, several policymakers have reopened their schools in hopes of providing students with opportunities to improve their social, emotional, and behavioral health. Following strict guidelines and procedures, several schools worldwide have found success in reinstating their public education systems. In Japan, schools follow an alternating method, with individuals attending class in rotations to limit the number of students at any given time and prevent spreading of the virus (Barton, Parekh) Similarly, in Australia, public schools reopened for “in-person classes one day per week in early May, combined with virtual learning the four remaining days” (Burke). As of yet, there are three primary strategies implemented by reopened schools worldwide to prevent the spreading of COVID-19: cohorting, staggering, and alternating strategies. According to the CDC, cohorting involves “groups of students, and sometimes teachers or staff, that stay together throughout the school day to minimize exposure for students, teachers, and staff across the school environment” (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). Schools in Denmark follow the cohorting method; students are organized into groups or “protective bubbles” of twelve that eat lunch and attend class separately (Barton, Parekh). The second method, staggering, involves the attendance of a group of students during the first half of the school day and a different group the second half (Education Week). Schools in Finland follow the staggering method, staggering their classes based on the age of students (Burke). Finally, the third method, alternating, involves a blend between public and virtual education (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). The alternating method is popular amongst many countries, including the aforementioned schools in Japan.
As schools across the globe continue to reopen, enforcing strategies and systems that may prevent the transmitting of the virus is vital for the safety of students worldwide. In relation to decisions school districts make regarding the reinstatement of public education, the health and wellbeing of students, teachers, communities, and families should always be considered as a top priority.