What Parents, Students, and Schools Should be Doing to Prepare for Coronavirus

Originally published by RealClear Education – March 13, 2020

Parents. Educators. First, take a breath. 

As is now typical in our media-saturated society, sensationalist panic about coronavirus in the United States is spreading fast. People are scared, and rightfully so. Abroad, Italy just quarantined 16 million people. And on American soil, multiple states have declared themselves in a state of emergency – Washington state is considering its own “mandatory measures” – and school districts and colleges are either temporarily closing for deep cleanings, or shutting down for weeks out of an abundance of caution.

As frightening as this recent string of events seems, now is not the time to panic. It’s still the time to prepare, especially where schools are concerned. 

In Hong Kong schools are closed for two months and students are participating in what the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, calls “internet-based teleschooling.” It raises important questions that Americans should be focused on asking and answering. 

For parents, the first questions are, “Should my child’s school close? What is the school’s action plan?” Dr. Messonnier asked her local superintendent what their plan was and encourages all parents to do the same.  

If the answer is having students learn from home, a cascade of questions should then follow, including: “Do parents need to supervise students? Will they be able to do that while balancing their own full-time jobs? And how can parents ensure the quality of their child’s education isn’t compromised during this time?”

District leadership teams must have well thought-out answers to these questions. For starters, they have to ensure that all students have access to a laptop or computer and that all students have a reliable at-home internet connection. In low-income areas, this is never a guarantee. 

These are the easy hurdles for schools to overcome. The harder ones concern instructional methods, lesson plan modifications, and student engagement. Hong Kong educators are currently struggling, having had to rush into this new way of teaching without access to or experience with large scale online learning solutions.  

In America, we have a well-established and high-performing online learning foundation. We have virtual schools that are already serving as safe havens for children who have been bullied; children who have debilitating medical conditions; children who struggle to thrive in traditional “sit-and-listen” environments; even children who want more out of their K-12 education by getting a jumpstart on their future careers. 

Online classrooms can provide an education for anyone. Should even more U.S. schools have to close, I’m confident that online education providers can help mitigate public health concerns while protecting our students’ right to receive a quality education. Online education has served this emergency role in the aftermath of natural disasters, and can do so again in the present crisis if needed.

“If needed” is the key phrase here. Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb recently said that this will “be a hard period,” but only after saying, “We’ll get through this.” Current evidence shows that the risk to our children is relatively minor. Let’s remember that, and be grateful for that, and use this time to prepare to meet their educational needs.

Kevin P. Chavous, a former District of Columbia City Council member, is an attorney, author, education reform activist, and President of Academics, Policy and Schools at K12 Inc.

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