Back on Track: Safely Reopening Schools for Returning Students

School districts across the nation are in the process of deciding exactly when it will be safe enough to reopen their buildings for in-person instruction. A number have committed to continuing with remote learning for the time being, while others will be reopening in stages, enacting measures like staggered schedules in order to keep students and teachers as safe as possible. Whenever districts do decide to open their doors to students, they will be faced with another important question: What is the best approach for transitioning their student body from remote instruction back into a school setting that may look and operate very differently than they are used to?

Although the safety of both students and staff should be the ultimate deciding factor for school districts, there is a strong case to be made for the importance of in-person learning. The critical role schools play in the infrastructure of our communities, providing a safe, supportive environment for children to learn and grow, cannot be understated. Not only do schools provide employment for educators, specialists, and administrators, they enable parents, guardians, and caregivers to work during the day. The effect of school closures extends beyond a student’s ability to learn. Schools also support a child’s health and wellbeing, providing school lunch programs and social, physical, and mental health services. Equity in education can also be affected the longer children are required to learn from home as it requires consistent and reliable access to technology and an internet connection, things not all students have access to outside of a school setting.

For districts reopening schools for in-person learning, the CDC has outlined several safety measures administrators should implement in their schools on their website. In addition to these safety measures, there are a number of ways districts can make the process of transitioning back to school easier on both students and their families. Schools should start with clear, detailed, and consistent communication with parents about plans for reopening and the safety measures being observed. Not only will this work to decrease anxiety and build confidence ahead of the transition, it will ensure that everyone is on the same page and allow students to hit the ground running by reducing the amount of classroom time spent reviewing the new rules.

Teachers should also be ready to listen to students who may be experiencing anxiety about the current state of their world. Younger students in particular may be having a hard time understanding everything they have had to adjust to in the past few months. Feeling heard by authority figures will help to increase their level of comfort as schools reopen and ready them for learning. Special considerations should be made for students with special needs who operate best when they can rely on a consistent schedule. Patience and understanding will be required for those who need a little extra time readjusting to a changing schedule.

Depending on an educator’s approach, the time students spent learning from home doesn’t have to be a source of anxiety, but rather one of strength and independence. During this time young learners have had to step up and take on an unprecedented amount of personal responsibility for their education. This is something that educators should recognize and celebrate with their students. School work produced during this time should be used as a shining example of students’ self-direction capabilities in order to boost confidence and independence.

In order to reopen schools as smoothly as possible, districts will need sufficient staffing to ensure continuity of education for students when they return. Existing staff will be more likely to call out sick than they were before lockdown, and as a result, districts will need to be ready with a deep pool of substitute teachers to draw from in order to fill increased absences. ESS’ 24/7 recruiting strategies have proven essential for our district partners when it comes to increasing fill rates and meeting each of their absences with qualified substitute teachers.

While transitioning students back to a school setting, administrators will likely have their hands full, left with little time to manage increases in their schools’ staffing needs. ESS’ full-service substitute staffing program is designed to free administrators of countless responsibilities, allowing them to focus instead on the success of their students. ESS handles all aspects of our partner district’s substitute teacher staffing programs: recruiting qualified personnel, screening potential hires to ensure only qualified staff are placed in their schools, training substitute teachers to ensure they come to the classroom ready to teach, placing staff where they are needed most, optimizing the school’s absence management technology systems, and continuing to manage all aspects the program once it is put in place.

It won’t just be students who will need to adjust to new rules and regulations in school, staff will need to learn and adapt to a new environment as well. In addition to our existing industry-leading training practices for all of our substitute teachers, ESS is now including COVID-19 training topics for substitutes and contingency plans so that training can continue online if in-person training is not possible. Should students be required to return to remote learning during the school year, ESS has developed an industry-leading virtual substitute teacher program, staffed by substitutes who have completed our intensive online virtual education training course. Our virtual substitute teachers are proficient with popular remote learning platforms such as Google Classroom, Zoom, Canvas, and more. Depending on the needs of the district, ESS’ virtual substitute teachers can teach from inside the classroom, broadcasting to students at home, or fully remote, teaching from an off-site location in a fully virtual classroom setting. These virtual substitutes are also trained to teach in a traditional classroom setting so they are prepared for any contingency. ESS works closely with our district partners for any specific training needs.

As districts begin to reopen schools, they will need extra support to ensure they are fostering a safe environment where learning can continue. ESS is committed to stepping up for schools and providing the support they need to be successful during uncertain times.

Contact ESS to learn more about what we have to offer schools as they navigate this transition process.