This series of posts is less for you than for me, but thanks for stopping by anyway. We’re living through historic times, and I would like to have a record of my lived experience as our country, but more specifically my profession and my family, faces the novel coronavirus pandemic of 2019-2020. This has already been an experience unlike any I have faced in my entire 20-year career, and it’s nowhere close to being over.
As I write this, it’s the evening of Monday, March 23, 2020. Students and teachers in many districts in the NJ/PA area have been out of school and on “remote instruction” for a week now. Sometime in late February or early March, we started having discussions in my school district about how we might provide remote instruction in the event that we had to close as a result of the pandemic. We’ve had this discussion before, mostly around reimagining snow days as “virtual learning” days, but seem to have always gotten hung up on logistics: with heavy snow often comes loss of power – what then? What about students with no Internet access at home? For a 1- or 2-day event like snow, I’m honestly of the mindset to let the kids be kids and just have a snow day, at least as far as the instructional piece is concerned.
This is different.
As more information came in and initial estimates said we could be out of school for two weeks or more to stem the exponential spread of the virus, we polled our student community to identify the levels of Internet access students had outside our buildings. Our district has a 1:1 Chromebook program for students in grades 6-12, so in our building, at least, device accessibility was less of a concern than infrastructure accessibility. As it turned out, only a small percentage of our student body reported not having a reliable Internet connection at home, and subsequent conversations with parents/guardians indicated that not even all those reports were accurate. For the eventual handful of students who needed them, the district procured T-Mobile hotspots and put together how-to guides before cataloging, disinfecting, and distributing them.
During the week of March 9, it was decided that the school schedule would be amended on Friday the 13th and Monday the 16th. Students would be sent home at the half-day mark and teachers would be given the afternoons of each day to plan for remote instruction. As it happened, we never got to the second half-day. On Friday, March 13, after another week’s worth of information, data, and most importantly, recommendations from federal and local public health agencies, the announcement was made that students would be dismissed at the half-day mark as planned, but the district would be closed to students and teachers from Monday, March 16, through the end of our Spring Break, April 14, in order to allow for social distancing and stem the spread of the coronavirus. Building administrators (me) would report to work for 4-hour workdays starting Monday, March 16.
Back home, my wife (a high school special ed/English teacher) and my kids (9th grade and 6th grade this year) were getting their own messages from their respective school districts. My wife’s school was also shutting down to students effective March 16, but staff would be expected to report for a half-day that day in order to continue planning for remote instruction (they had already done so the previous Friday as well). My children also received word that school was closed starting March 16.
The stories all start to diverge a bit here, and in a household in which we manage information from 3 different school districts in 2 different states (we live in PA but my wife and I work in NJ), it can get a little messy. What’s been interesting to me is having a first-hand opportunity to see how different districts have handled this crisis both as an employee and as a parent.
As I mentioned, it’s now March 23, and we’ve all been home exactly a week. Next time, I’ll be reflecting on what the first week out has looked like in our household.