Hopkins research team launches website to track school reopening policies

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Photo of Gilman Hall at Johns Hopkins University. Photo by callison-burch, via Flickr.

A team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University today launched an online tracker and other tools to examine K-12 school reopening plans across the United States.

The eSchool+ Initiative website includes a school reopening policy tracker, ethical guidance, COVID-19 school reopening checklist, biweekly e-newsletter and examples of “equity-oriented” reopening policies.

“As the United States continues to think about reopening, schools are at the forefront of every conversation. For parents to resume full-time work, schools will need to reopen, but only in a way that makes every effort to protect the safety and health of students, teachers and staff,” Annette Campbell Anderson, deputy director of the JHU Center for Safe and Healthy Schools and an assistant professor at the School of Education, said in a statement.

Campbell said schools will need to innovate to overcome the educational challenges that the pandemic has created. She added that Hopkins’ tracker is keeping tabs on how schools are adapting.

“Schools will also need to find new ways to make up for losses in learning, health, and support systems that occurred as a result of the closure,” she said. “These discussions are happening right now, and our tracker analyzes how states’ proposed recovery plans support students, teachers, and parents.”

The website was created through a collaboration among several of Johns Hopkins University’s schools and departments, including the Consortium for School-Based Health Solutions, the Berman Institute of Bioethics, the Rales Center for the Integration of Health and Education, and the schools of Education, Medicine, and Public Health.

The tracker compiles policies from the 46 state education boards and 13 national organizations that have issued guidance for reopening K-12 schools so far, according to the researchers.

The tracker assesses whether these plans satisfy 12 categories: student health services; food and nutrition; parent choice; teacher and staff choice; core academics; COVID-19 protection; before- and after-school programs; school access and transportation; children with special needs, English as a Second Language (ESL) students, and students who are gifted and “twice exceptional” (e.g. students with disabilities); children of poverty and systemic disadvantage; privacy; and engagement and transparency.

Maryland’s school reopening plan satisfies all 12 categories.

The researchers found that one-third of the reopening plans do not include any equity considerations for disadvantaged students, and most of the rest provide little detail.

Dr. Megan Collins, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Wilmer Eye Institute and the Berman Institute, and co-director of the Hopkins Consortium for School-Based Health Solutions, said that school systems must design their reopening plans to “[narrow] health and academic equity gaps for disadvantaged students.”

“Even as education and public health leaders advocate for making classroom-based education a priority for those children most at risk for missing school, there is no clear guidance from school districts about how structural justice problems should be addressed,” Collins said in a statement.

Maryland’s plan includes an “Educational Equity” section that instructs schools to continue following Maryland’s “Equity and Excellence: A Guide to Educational Equity in Maryland.”

Health experts have found that children generally seem to be less affected by coronavirus than older individuals. Young people have had to miss attending school in person to protect people who are at a greater risk of contracting the virus, said Ruth Faden, founder of the Berman Institute.

Among the ethical dilemmas that schools will face the decision of how to balance the interests of students and society at large, Faden said.

“Factored into this moral calculus is the additional argument that school reopening is integral to economic reopening; parents need the full-day child care schools provide in order to return to their stores, offices and factories,” she said.

Marcus Dieterle

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