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The 2020-2021 school year will be weird

(Note: I update this occasionally as I see new stuff.)

I'm working on our PTO's budget for next year, and I have questions.

Will be able to hold our usual events? Will there be field trips? (The PTO usually pays for field trips, and field trip expenses (especially busing) are a big part of the budget.)

My ramblings follow. The short version: we don't know. But it will probably not be a normal school year, even if it does include some in-person instruction.

I see the same headlines as everyone, but as much as possible I'd rather base our decisions on official recommendations--the school system, the state, etc. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of that yet, so I'm making some of my own guesses too.

One place to start is with the state's MI Safe Start Plan. It has six phases, from "1: uncontrolled growth", to "6: post-pandemic". Each phase has its own restrictions, criteria that must be met before we're considered in that phase. We can also move backwards through phases, for example if numbers start to trend up again.

Phase 6 essentially requires the pandemic to be over: "Community spread is not expected to return (e.g., because of a vaccine) and the economy is fully reopened." As far as I can tell from news reports, we're unlikely to reach phase 6 during the 2020-2021 school year. (See, for example, this New York Times article on the vaccine outlook, which reports optimism from vaccine research, but skepticism about our ability to scale to the production required to reach herd immunity through vaccination this year.)

So, realistically we'll likely be in phases 1 through 5. Phase 5 is the first phase to permit in-person K-12 education.

Phase 5 is still subject to social distancing ("maintain a six-foot distance from others when outdoors/in public"), requires face coverings, and requires gatherings be of "limited-size groups with social distancing" (limits unspecified).

Running in-person elementary school under those requirements sounds challenging.

West Bloomfield may be the only school district to have released a plan so far, reported on here. Students will attend school two days a week. Half will attend Monday and Tuesday, the other half Thursday and Friday, and Wednesday will be used for cleaning. This allows classes of half the size, for better social distancing. Also from that article:

Education officials who spoke to Bridge over the past few weeks regarding fall plans said schools are planning for multiple scenarios, from traditional school with facemasks and extra cleaning, to hybrid plans like West Bloomfield unveiled that limit the number of students in school buildings at any one time.

Alternating school attendance days is one plan being discussed; another is having half of students attend school in mornings, and half in afternoons.

The AAPS met Wednesday night: video, slides.

Flexibility is a big theme from that meeting. They expect a combination of "modified face-to-face", "virtual", and "blended" instruction, and hope to make the transition between those three as seamless as they can, to accommodate both changes in the public health system and varying family preferences. (They expect some families will choose to stay home even when not officially required to.)

It sounds like the hope to announce more in mid July. Probably we should meet to revise our budget after that.

They mentioned social events and field trips only to say that they understood they were important, that they would be impacted, and that they didn't know how yet.


Some more resources that I ran across:

The Bridge also has a list of colleges that have announced plans for the fall. Many are planning in-person classes, but I haven't tried to look into what that means in detail.

The CDC's considerations for schools.

This might be a source of links of plans from other states.

Other countries might provide more examples of what school reopening could look like:

UNESCO says 70% of students are out of school worldwide.



June 15 update: Michigan schools lean toward returning kids to classrooms amid coronavirus: more schools are considering in-person 5-day-a-week instruction, but coronavirus numbers are currently going in the wrong direction so this may be contentious.