A few days ago, restaurants, theaters, gyms, and other businesses in Georgia re-opened after Governor Brian Kemp issued an order that relaxed the state’s COVID-19 shutdown measures. Alaska and Oklahoma have also relaxed their restrictions, albeit in a more limited way.
Across America, neighbors and business owners and government officials are talking about when it will be safe to go out, to go back to work, to resume “normal” life—and whether “normal” will by necessity be something different than it was in February.
Will it ever feel right to shake hands or to hug? To jump up and down with strangers at a concert? To take Communion, or hold a friend’s newborn baby?
I’m aware that to some extent, these are privileged questions. Essential workers who haven’t had the choice to shelter in place and work from home don’t have the luxury of contemplating separation and re-entry—and that raises a host of important social justice questions, as my colleague Kris pointed out in her last blog post.
Even governors like Kemp who are moving to re-open businesses are holding back when it comes to schools (this article in Education Week sheds light on the rationale for doing so). The majority of K-12 students won’t be back in school until the fall, and even then it’s very likely that school will look quite different.
In March when schools closed, there was little opportunity to plan for it. Across the country, school and district leaders, teachers, parents, and students are doing the best they can given circumstances they didn’t choose.
But we have some time before the 2020-21 school year begins, and we ought to use it thoughtfully. We need to talk about what “Normal 2.0” will look like, and we need to do it together so that we’re acting with shared purpose and a recognition that school-family-community partnerships are more important than ever before.
It’s my hope that school and district leaders will engage staff members, families, and students in collaborative planning for schools to re-open. Let’s spend May, June, and July working together to answer questions like these:
Has this experience changed our sense of what schools ought to be and do? How so? (See, for example, this interview with AJ Crabill on the role of school boards and the function of schools.)
What might this experience push us to do or give us the opportunity to try, where before it might have seemed impossible? (See, for example, this article in the Hechinger Report about competency-based education, revised school calendars, and more.)
How might this experience push us to deepen our equity work?
What can we learn from other countries that have re-opened schools following the COVID-19 shutdown? (See, for example, this article from NPR outlining nine ways schools might look different.)
What parts of our district and school culture are really important to us? How might those change if social distancing measures continue for an indefinite amount of time even after school re-opens? How can we develop new norms and traditions? (For example, my daughter’s elementary school is an arts integration school and has a partnership with a local theater company. Will we still be able to stage and perform plays for the community?)
What did we do during the shutdown that we’d want to keep doing in some form even after school re-opens, and why?
If school had to close again, what would we do differently, and why?
Asking these questions now--and answering them in a reasoned way through some collaborative scenario planning--will go a long way towards building common purpose, shared responsibility, and a successful launch of Normal 2.0.
If your school or district is already engaged in this forward-looking work, we’d love to hear from you—please drop us a note at email@example.com.