A Glimpse Into School Reopenings Unveils An Opportunity For Smaller Schools

California's Department of Education has just published a new detailed guide (55 pages) to safely reopen schools for their 6.2 million students.
It gives a glimpse into what schooling might look like in the fall.
It presents a radical overhaul of classroom instruction which includes:

  • temperature checks
  • extensive hand washing throughout the day
  • physical distancing requirements — in classes, in hallways, at recess, on school buses
  • face coverings for students and staff everywhere
  • rotating students into classes just two days a week
  • staggered schedules, with AM-PM rotation
  • seating plans for school buses to keep students 6 feet (2 meters) apart
  • limited social activities, such as field trips and school assemblies
  • avoiding sharing electronic devices, toys, books

My three first reactions:

1. Goodbye Whole Child education
With such stringent requirements, schools are forced to focus much more narrowly on instruction.
No field trips and limited social activities will make it harder for students to explore their minds beyond the curriculum.
Making new friends during lunch breaks, cracking jokes in the hallways, working on projects in the makerspace, and playing football, are now all in question.
This will redefine the pact between parents & schools.
No longer will it be the school's responsibility to develop well-rounded students on their own.
The opportunity?
Becoming your parents' coaches in curating a well-rounded after school schedule (activities, field trips, playdates. etc).

2. A new trade-off: critical thinking vs. rules-enforcement
Last night my son found the courage to jump into an adult conversation at the dinner table.
We were chatting with our guests about the merits of Youtube; he listened, waited his turn, and offered a view that went against the others.
He is 7 years old.
I saw him speak his mind in a thoughtful and structured way.
My question is this:
How are we going to balance strict enforcement of all these new rules with nurturing confidence and individuality? These are two completely opposite goals we now have to navigate.
Enforcing these new health and safety rules is necessary but may also lead to further herd thinking.
They may further limit individual expression and disempower our students from finding and reaching their own goals.

3. Larger schools and districts are losing their main competitive edge
For starters, rules and regulations will impact larger schools more.
They will bear outsized responsibility for managing the new complexity.
Larger schools used to, at least, have the advantage of scale.
More students and a larger budget, oftentimes meant they could offer a larger track field, a nicer stadium, more frequent field trips, a deeper teacher roster, and a more thorough curriculum.
Today, smaller schools may have all the advantages of offering a more personalized experience without the shortcomings of a smaller budget.

A question for all schools -large and small- is how to differentiate in this new world of education.
A narrower focus means that your value proposition may have to be deeper (ie. student activity counseling) instead of wider (ie. extracurriculars).
The relationship with families is about to get much closer and entwined.

Are you prepared to get closer to your parents; to become their coaches, their guides? Are you set up to offer activity counseling to your students for life beyond the classroom?

It seems that the schools of 2020 will have to integrate into their parents' lives, not the other way around.