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Duration: The first question in a School Continuity Plan

“When will schools re-open?”, I am asked.

It depends upon your country, your state, your people – of course. Sweden has had some schools open all through, England’s schools have been open for the children of key workers. India has had a complete shut down, even with the previous year’s examinations incomplete.

(Before I answer this, I a rant. To skip the rant, go to the end of the brackets.

The question is interesting, because it reveals one thing with clarity never seen before – that as schools, we are administrative units.

Not hubs for personal growth, not channels for spreading education, not a public good that rises the tide of prosperity and knowledge, not a tool for social and economic mobility. If we, as schools were any of these, and more, we would be asking a different question. We would be asking questions such as – How do we keep learners growing? But we ask, when will our bricks and mortar anchor be allowed to open. When can we go back to our comfortable routines of lessons, and rooms, and assessments and bells to tell us what to do next?)

Not soon, I answer.

Not soon, and even when we do, it will not be the same.

For one, our schools were spaces of congregation. Our schools were spaces of connectedness. They were spaces where we jostled with each other, negotiating our spaces, both metaphorically, but also literally.

Now, at least for the next two years, we will not be allowed proximity. Our interactions will have to be distant, as will our learning. And the liability for any proximal interactions is going to lie with the school. It’s going to be a nightmare, keeping those little ones from getting into fights with one another, as is their nature.

The rules of school will have to change, even if they re-open in the next few months, be it June or September.

When will schools Re-Open: 

These are the four possibilities that you should work with: June 2020, September 2020, January 2021 and October 2021

For each, here is the starting point of your planning ahead:

If schools re-open by June 2020, you will need to create a short term crisis plan, but will need to quickly, and with great precision plan a survival and risk strategy for the opening. In my opinion, it is too early to re-open, most schools would not have a Covid Consistent Continuity Plan in place (CCCP) in such a short time span.

If schools open in September, you may find that the short term crisis plan that you implemented so far, such as online learning etc., was a great basis for identifying all the things you need to fix going forward, but that creating a CCCP is about understanding and planning for a fragile term or semester, which may be disrupted by lockdowns, incidents and scares at any time. As a school, the plan will need to have contingencies built in, for calm, efficient, competent and reassuring handling of the community.

Designing this CCCP will be tricky (and I shall write another article on that), but essential.

If schools re-open in January 2021, we would have been saved the fraught months of handling potential disruptions at every step. Many behavioural protocols would have already been put in place, and getting students to comply will be far easier. There will also be a clear focus on the purpose of coming in to school. By Jan 2021, the activities that are allowed and safe would clearly have been delineated, and handling school, learning, progress and constraints would be a more stable process.

If schools open later than January 2021, then we know would have been through a truly rough ride in the year 2020. This would entail a whole new set of issues for schools – not just about going back to the old normal. The world of learning would have evolved, some practices would have become part of our everyday behaviours, and student engagement would have evolved. Schools will need to plan for their next evolution into the New Normal, if the duration of the break is more than 18 months.

With these 4 scenarios, we know that we need to work with 4 sets of assumptions and outcomes – for the School Continuity Plan. It’s not all within our control, but with good planning, we can find the best way out of this mess.

Regardless of when schools re-open, we need to be ready for all 4 duration scenarios. Let’s get to work!

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