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As you read this post, please keep one thing in mind: I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about.

With 16 years of experience teaching middle and high school students, and 18 years working with teachers, students, and administrators in schools at all levels, I’ve certainly been involved with many openings to the academic year. Along with more than a few disruptions to that process. But certainly nothing like 2020.

Anyway, what follows is my rambling speculation on the start of the coming school year in our overly-large school district (and probably many other places), along with some bits of advice. Take what you like and ignore the rest.

First, schools will not “open” in the fall. At least not in the 2019 way you might fondly remember.

COVID-19 will not be gone, or even “under control” (whatever form that eventually takes), in two and a half months. Schools are just not designed for social distancing, nor are they particularly clean places. Most high school classrooms in which I’ve worked are not sized to comfortably accommodate 30 or more almost-adult sized humans in the best of times.

But schools probably will “open” on time (currently scheduled for August 25), but with only a subset of students physically present. I suspect the district will be forced into some kind of blended schooling approach where kids attend class in the building less than full-time and fulfill the rest of their requirements online from home. Hang onto those Blackboard passwords.

Even so, not all kids will be coming to your building. Despite some scientists saying that it should be safe to open schools, there will be a not-insubstantial number of parents who will not accept the “children are less likely to become infected with this coronavirus” argument and keep their kids home. I hope administrators are planning for that.

Some of your teachers may not be coming back either. Districts will need to deal with a potentially significant number of staff members who are in groups that make them more at risk if they are infected. Some teachers will also make a last minute decision to retire, or just quit, because of all the chaos. We already have teacher shortages, especially in certain areas like special education, and COVID-19 will only make them worse.

Don’t ask for anything that costs money for a while, especially pay increases. State and local budgets have been trashed by responding to the pandemic and the loss of tax revenue. Even in a rich area like this, there will be no quick recovery from the economic impact of the pandemic.

High school football will happen. Although the fall games shouldn’t be a high priority, there will be a lot of pressure from parts of the community to play (not like in Texas and much of the mid-West but still pressure). I hope the district will resist, but I doubt it.

Finally, a little bit of advice for teachers as you plan for the fall uncertainties.

At the start of a new year, there’s an inclination to academically assess our new students. Especially in middle and high school “core” classes, too many teachers (including me, I confess) make one of their first goals to figure out how much the kids have retained from the previous year so they can determine how much review will be needed before moving on.

However, finding out what your new students know is far less important than learning who they are. Building a community is far more important than your curriculum.

I think that’s always been true, and it’s a lesson I only learned after a number of years in the classroom. It’s even more important considering everything your kids have been thorough this spring and all the disruption that is likely coming in the next school year.


The photo shows a slide from the electronic sign at the local elementary school.