How to Fully Reopen the Public Schools By 2026

The first step in reopening schools is figuring out what the actual, mathematical 6-foot social distanced capacity of the school is. Add a margin for error–or for children pretending to be dinosaurs. Room by room. If everything runs perfectly, how many children can be in this room? What if it doesn’t go perfectly? Guess what? The number you get? Pretty sure it’s not going to be thirty-five kids to a classroom. And you can’t forget the teachers. Without them, what’s the point?

The next step is evaluating the risk level for the teachers and staff involved. Realistically, it’s just not fair to ask anyone to die for a paycheck. The people who work in schools are no different than anyone else. There is a range of ages and health conditions, not to mention personal situations. It’s not reasonable to believe that a full staff will be available. You can’t reopen the schools without knowing how many teachers and janitors and lunch personnel you actually have.

This is the painful part: Your kid doesn’t get to go.

Now that we know how many kids fit in the available space, and how many teachers will be available to teach them… We triage the students. What is the maximum number of students who can be served with the minimum amount of risk?

A sixth grader is much more likely to keep social distance than a kindergartner. A senior in high school is old enough to be a babysitter. He doesn’t need one. Obviously, there is an age-related component to who should go back first. Children who are old enough to understand and follow the rules, but not old enough to stay home alone.

“Essential workers'” kids go back first. Yeah, it’s certainly true that you won’t get as much work done with the kids at home, but they’re not going to be running around the streets unsupervised, getting run over by milk trucks and blowing things up. Nobody dies. The infrastructure of the country does not break down.

The next category of kids to go back is children who are at risk for abuse from their parents/caregivers if they stay home. Kids with substantiated histories of abuse first, then, substantiated neglect, and after that, the ones with multiple unverifiable reports. Obviously, the more time they can spend not at home, the better.

And after that? Bring in the children who are relying on schools for meals. The free and reduced lunch kids. (Although, to be honest, I suspect a lot of these kids went back under “Essential workers’ kids,” because so many people in those areas are criminally underpaid.) There are other ways of feeding children, of course… but schools are definitely one of the most convenient.

You work your way down the list of students until–eventually, maybe–you get to the gifted high school senior who spends half his day at the university, anyway.

We will not get all the way through the list.

2 Comments

  1. Reply

    I can’t see much wrong with this strategy…which means it almost certainly will not be what we end up doing. In my state (Nevada) it seems to be a toss up between a) throwing everyone back in the classroom and just hoping it all ends up okay and not too many people die and b) having online school only for the next school year.

    I teach preschool, and when the district asked in their survey if we’d like to insist on the kids wearing face masks all day I put my head down on my desk and laughed until I cried.

    • Reply

      Please tell me they sent the same survey to all the teachers in the district. The last time I worked with preschoolers, we were lucky to get them to wear *shoes* all day.

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