The other day, more than 30 school superintendents from around the region sent a letter to the state health department desperately seeking guidance for how to proceed with the next school year as it relates to the covid pandemic.
What better guidance do they need than what they’ve experienced the last year-and-a-half?
It’s becoming clearer by the day that we’re going to be entering our second autumn under the cloud of covid, with new cases rising virtually everywhere and the new vigorous Delta variant adding rocket fuel to the spread.
Already, the state and federal governments are rapidly restoring recommendations for masking and social distancing, and government bodies and businesses are imposing new requirements, as far as they’re legally allowed, for employees and customers regarding vaccinations and regular testing.
Whether school officials want to admit or not, whether they want it to happen or not, we could soon be experiencing a wave of illness similar peaks from the past 18 months.
But this time around, it won’t just be old, sick and overweight people getting the worst of it.
Younger people are showing vulnerability to the newer variants.
Where in the past it was rare for someone in their 20s and 30s to become seriously ill, more stories are being told about unvaccinated individuals being hospitalized, put on respirators and dying.
While vaccines are available to those age 12 and over, it could be months before younger children can get vaccinated.
With school scheduled to resume in New York about a month from now, administrators can’t wait for the state to figure out just what protocols it’s going to require and when.
Health officials might be slow in issuing recommendations this time around, in part because of a reluctance to push too hard and face backlash, but also because Gov. Andrew Cuomo no longer has the sole authority he had under the old emergency declaration to impose new orders based on daily changes.
Given the rapidly changing status of the virus and the potential for new requirements, schools should prepare multiple contingencies based on what they’ve gone through in the past. So when the state offers new guidance, they’ll be prepared to enact the policies immediately.
That means developing rules, procedures and communication chains for masking, social distancing and in-school vs. remote attendance, along with protocols for putting them into place on short notice.
It means working with unions on teacher vaccination and testing.
It means addressing with teachers and staff the shortfalls in the remote learning situation, and looking at what they’ve done and what can be done to mitigate the issues.
It means working with the sports teams and leagues on the circumstances in which practices and games can be he held or canceled.
It means working closely with local health and government officials in their own counties and surrounding counties to share the latest information about outbreaks and prevention measures.
One fear with the Delta variant is that it could produce hyper-local outbreaks. Officials need to be on top of the latest local developments.
It means dedicating themselves to communicating closely with parents and addressing their concerns as they arise.
It means sharing their best and worst experiences with other districts and knowing what worked and what didn’t. Information in another outbreak is power.
Many districts are already taking many of these steps to prepare, which should reassure parents, students and the public.
There can be order within the chaos of a new wave of covid with proper evaluation of past practices and with proper planning based on anticipation of the best- and worst-case scenarios.
If school officials wait too long for state guidance, they may be caught unprepared.
The only good thing school districts can say about the next potential wave is that they’ve all been through this before.
Use that to prepare for what’s next.