A detailed action plan to safely reopen our schools according to Dr. Fauci's benchmarks
August 24, 2020
The current board of education has treated every major community problem as an all or nothing binary choice. Considering the many impacts of the pandemic we must work to develop a broad consensus plan for safely reopening schools and providing families with choices come February by relying on the advice of infectious disease experts such as Dr. Fauci. Our governor has done a great job of listening to the experts like Dr. Fauci and working to safely reopen the economy while ensuring that folks adhere to safety guidelines. This has resulted in very high approval ratings of the job he is doing. The difference between why Governor Hogan has been able to handle the pandemic so well why the school system has not is that the Governor created a multi-step action plan to safely reopen the economy while setting safety guidelines recommended by scientists like Dr. Fauci to slow the spread of COVID-19. The Board of Education on the other hand has no such long term plan and has yet to decide on the benchmarks for when we should reopen. These are my initial thoughts on a multi-step action plan for us to safely reopen our schools in accordance with CDC guidelines that meet Dr. Fauci’s benchmarks for infection with a 5% positivity rate and 10 infected people each day per hundred thousand people in our county.
Here is how I would start:
1. On the first Board meeting in December immediately make a motion directing for our HCPSS staff to begin allowing for recorded asynchronous lessons along with our current synchronous learning that will increase flexibility for working parents and is already in place in other jurisdictions. The fact that this is not already in place shows how out of touch HCPSS is with the needs of working families.
2. Next on that same day, I would make a motion for central office staff to begin the process of identifying the 776 teachers willing to teach our most vulnerable students (offer a choice to the 6600 who need special education services and those who failed one or more subjects as well as children of essential employees) and use our remaining CARE’s Act money to bring them back into the school building if HCPSS has not already done so by then. I would like for this to begin by January 4th, 2021 (first day back from winter break) at the latest.
3. Now on that same day, I would like for us to begin the process of collecting data from all students and staff on the option for learning they would want to choose in the 2nd semester starting in February. We should also ask each family to self rank the importance they place on returning to the classroom to see the number of families who feel strongly about returning in person vs those who feel comfortable with either option but would simply prefer in person. This data collection survey should be sent in an email as well as by mailing a letter and making every attempt to gather info from each student. We need to ensure that we provide the survey in multiple languages including Spanish and Chinese to reach the populations who may not understand English. To start the reopening process safely we would first need to identify the number of interested students for each option of hybrid, in-person and online, and then look at the benchmarks recommended by Dr. Fauci for safely reopening under CDC guidelines. As a board, we need to decide on a set of benchmarks in which we decide if it is safe or not to reopen our schools either partially or fully. Just like our governor has listened to Dr. Fauci to decide when to safely reopen our economy I am also in full agreement with the standards provided by Dr. Fauci as he is one of the most respected voices in infectious diseases and thus I trust his judgment on this very important issue. His benchmarks are 10 or less positive cases a day per hundred thousand residents as well as less than a 5% positivity rate to allow for a 5 days of school option. As well as a benchmark of 10-100 positive cases a day per hundred thousand residents and a 5-10% positivity rate for allowing a hybrid option. If we have more than 100 positive cases a day per hundred thousand residents and a greater than 10% positivity rate than we would only be allowed to do online learning. Here is the video where he gives the recommended benchmarks with Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpJRmF3yPcA.
4. On that same day once we decide those benchmarks we need to hammer out the details on how to safely reopen our schools if we have met Dr. Fauci’s benchmarks. That is when we decide what type of PPE we need for our staff’s protection. I propose providing face shields along with masks as new research has shown that face shields when combined with masks provide much more added protection. Other safety considerations are recommending open windows and air filters to increase air circulation. We must also adhere to state guidelines that require masks indoors. Lunch would also likely need to be eaten in the classroom unless there is a drastic improvement. The process of procuring PPE will be a major challenge but one that we must work to solve. This will require innovative out of the box thinking that the school system has failed to do for some time. I understand there is a lot of anxiety to go back once it is safe and it is very heavily underestimated by many BOE members and candidates but we also must ensure that safety is a very important factor and that there is a robust plan.
5. 2 weeks after the survey is returned we can work to see the number of students who are interested in returning and the class size which is safe. This would also have to be decided on by the board. Once we have considered that we will need to figure out the staffing by working to ensure that teachers who are in a high-risk group are allowed to teach the online cohort from home.
6. Finally, we will continue to closely monitor the situation and ensure that we continue to meet Dr. Fauci’s guidelines for a safe reopening as we approach February. If things get out of hand we can always temporarily go back to fully virtual learning.
These are my thoughts on a school reopening plan that ensures that families have options for learning while providing clear guidelines to ensure that safety is the top priority. Of course, this is a work in progress and there is a lot more to consider but I am pleased to be able to be the only candidate in the District 2 race that is transparent enough to provide a detailed action plan.