Though there is no way to reopen without some risk, a new guide from Michigan State University can help leaders prepare their schools and communities for a range of realities while learning during a pandemic.

The guide, released by the Office of K-12 Outreach in MSU’s College of Education, provides a broad overview of recommendations and considerations by compiling information from multiple sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, and related education research. As in many states, Michigan schools haven’t yet received state or federal requirements on COVID-19-related operations for the coming school year.

“We have a very short time to get ready for the complications of teaching during a pandemic in a way that minimizes the chance of a resurgence of the virus,” said Nicole Ellefson, an outreach specialist and one of the report’s co-authors. “COVID-19 came suddenly and forced a shift to remote education for everyone, but we can’t claim to be surprised going forward.”

Importantly, school districts’ plans must consider the needs of all students, with equity and transparent communication at the forefront, the authors said.

With the need for 6 feet of social distancing, the cap in face-to-face classrooms may be approximately 12 to 15 students at one time. Managing this limited capacity means schools may take a variety of approaches across four domains:

  • Student cohorts: Placing students in groups, such as by need or into different time frames so students alternate between in-person and remote learning
  • Schedules: Changing the school year calendar with varying lengths of time between face-to-face and remote teaching
  • Buildings: Making changes throughout schools, such as increasing sanitation procedures, requiring face masks where possible and opening windows
  • Classrooms: Altering practices within each classroom, such as adding space between students while lining up; bringing art, music and physical education to the room; and limiting trips to the playground

The guide outlines various options and considerations related to each area of risk mitigation.

School leaders also must plan for a range of anticipated added costs, with the understanding that this will be difficult with steep budget cuts possible. New expenses could include hand sanitizing stations recommended at each entrance, more classroom materials to reduce sharing, and additional staff, such as school nurses, to monitor symptoms. The MSU authors urge school leaders to have their plans in place and communicated to their communities before reopening. This includes working closely with their own employee unions as well as the families they serve.

“While the task that lies ahead of the education community is substantial, we believe strongly in the ingenuity, knowledge and commitment of district leaders, staff and their communities to plan for robust, aligned and science-based reopening plans,” said Bryan Beverly, co-author and director of the Office of K-12 Outreach.