A multidisciplinary team of Johns Hopkins University researchers has launched a new website that provides a range of tools dedicated to assessing and guiding K-12 school reopening plans across the United States, including a School Reopening Policy Tracker that provides real-time analysis of the latest guidance documents from every state.
According to researchers from the JHU eSchool+ Initiative, 46 State Boards of Education and 13 national policy organizations have thus far issued policy guidance about reopening K-12 schools. Equity issues are the crux of a safe return for low-income children and children who are people of color, and yet, one-third of reopening plans do not mention equity considerations for these student groups at all, and most others mention them with little detail.
"As the United States continues to think about reopening, schools are at the forefront of every conversation," says Annette Campbell Anderson, deputy director of the JHU Center for Safe and Healthy Schools and an assistant professor at the School of Education. "For parents to resume full-time work, schools will need to reopen, but only in a way that makes every effort to protect the safety and health of students, teachers and staff. Schools will also need to find new ways to make up for losses in learning, health, and support systems that occurred as a result of the closure. These discussions are happening right now, and our tracker analyzes how states' proposed recovery plans support students, teachers, and parents."
The Tracker and additional resources created by JHU's eSchool+ Initiative include:
- A guidance document titled "The Ethics of K-12 School Reopening: Identifying and Addressing the Values at Stake"
- A COVID-19 school reopening checklist
- "School News Roundup," a biweekly e-newsletter (sign up online)
- Examples of equity-oriented reopening policies
"What children lose by not being in school is enormous; school attendance is a life-defining experience that is critical for educational, social, and emotional development," says Ruth Faden, founder of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics. "The biggest ethical challenge for decision makers is determining how to balance the interests of children and the interests of the rest of society. Factored into this moral calculus is the additional argument that school reopening is integral to economic reopening; parents need the full-day child care schools provide in order to return to their stores, offices, and factories. This big-picture trade-off decision does not, however, exhaust what is ethically at stake. Many difficult ethical decisions about exactly how schools should reopen need to be resolved."
A collaboration between JHU's Consortium for School-Based Health Solutions, the Berman Institute, the Rales Center for the Integration of Health and Education, and schools of Education, Medicine, and Public Health, the eSchool+ Initiative is a cross-disciplinary effort to provide actionable real-world information and guidance that has characterized the university's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Schools are a nexus of health and well-being for children, particularly in less resourced communities where the burdens of the pandemic are being borne disproportionately," said Megan Collins, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Wilmer Eye Institute and Berman Institute, and co-director of the Hopkins Consortium for School-Based Health Solutions. "While schools will be monitoring the COVID-19 'learning slide,' what is missing is an eye on equity for disadvantaged groups. Even as education and public health leaders advocate for making classroom-based education a priority for those children most at risk for missing school, there is no clear guidance from school districts about how structural justice problems should be addressed. By creating the eSchool+ Initiative, we hope to contribute to ongoing discussions about narrowing health and academic equity gaps for disadvantaged students."