In a normal school year, writing a back-to-school letter for parents can be pretty straightforward. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to reimagine the 2020-2021 school year, and we must provide much more information than usual to help parents understand how the new school year will look. There may be too much information to fit in one letter without overwhelming parents, so it may be helpful for your school leaders to create a “Back to School Toolkit” instead this year.
Here are some tips for building your Back to School Toolkit:
1. Begin by acknowledging that in-person learning is the best way for children to learn.
In our recent article about how to plan your school reopening, we referenced some of the reasons that in-person learning is extremely important for students:
- In a physical classroom, students are able to interact with peers and teachers to learn social and emotional skills.
- Students from low-income households rely on access to free or reduced-cost meals.
- Educators have more control over the instructional environment, with more options to engage in responsive teaching practices to meet students’ needs, offer extra supports for students who are at risk for falling behind, and provide targeted education supports for IDEA/SPED students.
- With full-time in-person learning, parents can continue to work without interruptions.
Parents likely already know many of the benefits of in-person learning, but you can start to build a foundation of empathy and trust with parents by openly acknowledging this fact too.
2. Next, acknowledge the risk of transmission through in-person learning.
Unfortunately, our country as a whole is just not ready to reopen schools for full-time in-person learning yet. In fact, Politico reports that most countries recognize it is not safe to reopen schools on a widespread basis yet. Some of the risks associated with reopening schools include:
- Air conditioning units — If your classrooms have poor ventilation and rely on recycled air for your air conditioning units, students and teachers are at a much higher risk to contract the virus.
- Lack of space to social distance — A scientific review of 172 research studies published in The Lancet suggests that people should keep about 2 meters (or about 6.6 feet) away from others to significantly reduce the risk of spreading the virus. However, the average public school class size in the USA is between 16 and 27 students. With class sizes this large, students and teachers will find it difficult to properly social distance, especially in small spaces such as hallways and school bus seats. Additionally, younger students who have trouble fully understanding the implications of spreading the virus may struggle to avoid coming into close contact with one another.
- Difficulties associated with mask-wearing — The aforementioned Lancet article also finds evidence that mask-wearing can limit the spread of COVID-19, but wearing a mask for hours on end can be very uncomfortable. Additionally, younger students are likely to find it difficult to avoid touching the (potentially contaminated) exterior portion of the mask throughout the school day.
3. Thoroughly explain your school’s instructional strategies for the Fall 2020 semester.
Remember that parents may not be familiar with different instructional models, including hybrid or remote learning methods. Their first experience with remote learning may have been the Spring 2020 semester, after schools were unexpectedly closed in response to COVID-19. Parents may be wary of entering a chaotic fall semester, and detailed descriptions of your school’s planned instruction will help families feel more confident as students go back to school.
Here are some questions to answer for parents about the Fall 2020 semester:
- Will your school fully reopen to students, use a rotating schedule with student cohorts, use a fully remote learning plan, or use a hybrid combination of instructional methods?
- What is the exact school schedule each student will follow? During every part of the day, where will each student be located, what subject will they learn about, and what learning activities will they engage in?
- How can students get access to the technology they need for remote learning? What support is provided for students living in low-income households? What alternative options are available for students who don’t have access to a reliable internet connection at home?
- What should parents do if they need help getting access to technology resources, other school supplies, and free or reduced-cost meals?
- How will students be expected to engage in remote learning? What specific technology programs and applications will they need to learn to use? Who will provide the necessary training for students to learn to use new applications?
- How often will students be expected to engage in independent self-study? What should parents do to support students’ self-study skills?
- How will homework expectations be communicated?
- How will teachers track student progress this year? How can parents check on their students’ progress?
- Who can parents contact if they have questions about your school’s instructional methods or extra supports for their students?
- How will your school provide mental and emotional health supports for students, especially when they are learning remotely? How will your school help students feel engaged and connected with one another when they are learning remotely? How will your school support students who experience anxiety or grief due to coronavirus-related circumstances?
- What supplemental programs will your school offer? For example, what after-school programs, elective classes, arts programs, and athletic programs will be offered? How will these programs work?
More Advice for Your “Back to School Toolkit” for Parents
Read Part 2 of this article for a few more key components to include in your school’s Back to School Toolkit, including advice for how parents can best support their students’ learning during the fall 2020 school semester.
In the mean time, we would love to schedule a free phone call with you to talk about the most pressing concerns you have for your school. At the Center for Student Achievement Solutions, we develop a customized, responsive strategy to help improve your student achievement statistics and promote equitable education at your school. We work with principals, district leaders, and even state education departments to provide the professional development your educators need to close the achievement gap.
Schedule a free call with one of our consultants now to learn more about how we can partner with your leadership team.