By Rafaela Prifti-
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will not release the guidelines on how to reopen to students after coronavirus shutdowns. A spokesperson said that the full set will be published before the end of July. President Trump has repeated that he wants to see schools reopen classrooms in the fall. But he complained on Twitter about the CDC’s guidance of preventive measures in schools for being ‘too tough”. The school systems nationwide are grappling with whether and how to open this fall amid the public-health crisis.
In New York, the nation’s largest school system, Governor Andrew Cuomo has laid out “the formula to be used to reopen schools across the state”. The requirements, based on data, are: the region must be in Phase 4 and the daily infection rate must remain below 5% using a 14-day average for schools to reopen. Schools will be closed if the infection level rises to 9% or greater before the day school opens. Governor Cuomo put the emphasis on safely reopening schools following state guidelines such as face masks, social distancing, regular cleaning of classrooms, COVID-19 screenings and contact tracing. Decisions on school reopening will be made in the first week of August. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza have announced a plan of Blended Learning for the city’s 1.1 million school children. Across the state and around the country, a number of schools have developed and devised structures such as open tents for in-person classroom teaching. There have been reports of lowered risks of contracting the coronavirus outside. As the city has done for restaurants and fast-food industry, it could cordon off streets and sidewalks for schools.
Curiously, outdoor classes were the solution during the pandemic more than a century ago when tuberculosis was a global pandemic. In 1907, two Rhode Island doctors, Mary Packard and Ellen Stone, followed the models in Germany to lower the risk of infection transmission among children. Doctors Packard and Stone implemented the concept by converting a brick building into a public health conscious structure. They proposed the creation of an open-air schoolroom by installing large windows on each side and keeping them open all day. In the harsh winter season children stayed warm in wearable blankets called “Eskimo sitting bags”. Images from Library of Congress show the children with heated soapstone placed at their feet. There were no reported cases of sick students. Within two years 65 open-air schools around the country either set up along the lines of the Providence model of Rhode Island or were held outside. In New York, the classes at private school Horace Mann were taught on the roof.
There is growing body of evidence suggesting ways that outdoor leaning benefits students, younger ones in particular. Some have talked about using vacant office or retail space for schools. Some public school teachers have proposed that all kindergarten, first- and second-grade classes could be held outside, with the natural environment deployed as a resource for math and science lessons. Alternatively, there are plans that schools could use as much accessible outdoor space as possible to reduce the number of students in a building at any given time, thus allowing for proper social distancing. Instead of rotating between live school and remote learning, children could rotate between indoor and outdoor work during the course of the day. Media reports that while inequity has meant that schools in more affluent neighborhoods are situated closer to parks than those in poorer parts of the city, infrastructure for outdoor learning is already in place, even in many low-income neighborhoods. Between 2007 and 2013, in conjunction with the Trust for Public Land, the city converted more than 250 schoolyards to green space for student and community use. Although a promising idea, transitioning to the outdoor learning comes with new challenges from liability claims to curriculum requirements.