By John M. McLaughlin, Ph.D.
When schools open in coming weeks, they won’t look like the schools that closed in March. One of the most likely changes is breaking the student body into smaller cohorts that will attend for 2 hours or so and be dismissed before the next group of students arrives. This will allow for direct contact with teachers everyday with less students in each classroom and greater physical distancing between them. In addition, such cohorting or podding reduces opportunities for exposure to COVID and makes contact tracing easier in the event of a positive case according to the CDC’s July 23rd guidelines: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/prepare-safe-return.html.
An elementary school with 600 students might have four “shortened-school days” for 150 students at a time: 7:00 to 9:00 AM; 10:00 to 12:00; 1:00 to 3:00 PM; 4:00 to 6:00. The schools will be disinfected in the one-hour periods between shifts. Similarly, a high school of 1,000 students could go to three three-hour shifts: 7-10; 11-2; and 3 -6. Traditional one-hour classes will be reduced to 30 minutes. These are reasonable adjustments while the country continues to face down the pandemic.
But, when schools re-open, not all students will return. Some families enjoyed the home school experience of Spring 2020 and wish to continue. Some children have vulnerable loved ones at home and cannot risk COVID exposure in school. Some parents have given up on public schools and government’s capacity to manage society. But most families which keep their children home this fall fully intend to return to public school when the threat of COVID has passed. This is where a public-private partnership (PPP) can serve the students, the school district, and the community. A private company can partner with school districts to provide public school services for the 2020-21 school year to children who do not return to campus but who are not registered as “home schoolers” with the state or district.
School districts will face enormous staffing challenges this fall. Engaging in PPPs meets immediate needs without making long-term commitments. PPPs give school districts qualified and certified personnel to meet the urgent demands of an unprecedented situation and buys the district time to assess the expected course of the pandemic and adjust schooling and staffing to the new normal.
John M. McLaughlin, Ph.D. has been engaged in special education PPPs since the 1970s. He is Managing Partner at McLaughlin Advisors, Inc., on the Board of ChanceLight Education, and the co-author of We’re In This Together: Public-Private Partnerships in Special and At-Risk Education (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015).