Across the globe, schools have been closed and deserted due to the overwhelming spread of COVID-19. Classrooms that used to flourish are now empty and desolate.
With the 2019-2020 school year cut short, it is safe to say that significant learning time has been lost across the globe. Despite the advent of online learning, students are not learning as much or as effectively anymore.
Because of the widespread large amount of lost learning time, many states and districts are trying to figure out solutions to make up for this major loss with the common goal of maintaining the quality of students’ education.
In fact, California Governor Gavin Newsom recently suggested starting the school year earlier, claiming that making up for lost learning could warrant partitioning more class time to the upcoming school year.
“We have made no decisions definitively in that space, but I just want folks to know the concern around learning loss,” said Newsom in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “Having talked to many other parents and educators, even the kids, I think we might want to consider getting that school year moved up a little bit.”
Many people were taken aback by such an unusual proposition. An overwhelming majority of Californians completely opposed the idea for a multitude of reasons.
“It’s insane,” said Jon Bath, Political Action Chair for the Fresno Teachers Association in an interview with Politico. “It’s not safe to go back in July. Can you imagine being with 40 kids in a room that’s 20 [feet] by 20 [feet]? As a teacher, you’re going to get it.”
Bath, strongly opposed to Newsom’s proposition, raises an important point about such an early school start.
California has been one of the most effective states at flattening the curve and curbing the spread of coronavirus. As such a largely populated state, these measures have been necessary to prevent a large-scale statewide outbreak with deadly potential.
Beginning the school year prematurely at a time when the virus is still widely spreading could be a dangerous decision.
Although children and young adults are generally not severely affected by the virus as much as older individuals, they could easily become carriers for the virus and bring it home to their families. This could even create the grounds for a second wave of the virus.
If schools were to open so early, they would have to institute measures to continue preventing the spread of coronavirus.
“Even if instruction is able to start then … you would certainly need to keep in mind that things such as social distancing and other kinds of classroom precautions will need to be in place,” said Riverside County Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser in an interview with Politico. “This will have important impacts as far as class size, level of instruction, school lunch times.”
The many measures required for ensuring a healthy learning environment suggest that, even if schools could safely open up so early, the number of mandated precautions necessary would be unrealistic to institute and simply not worth it.
Aside from the major concerns of the coronavirus spreading, starting school as early as July would present other logistical and financial issues.
“July would be problematic for all school districts that already have plans to implement summer school,” said Darin Brawley, Compton Unified School District Superintendent, in an interview with LA Times.
Scheduling the school year at such an unusual time could present schedule conflicts for districts that already have things planned over the summer.
Holding instruction earlier than usual would also cost significantly more money as the cost of operating schools, especially considering all of the necessary measures that will need to take place, could be difficult to manage.
Teachers would have to be paid more and students would likely be present less, meaning districts would be at much higher risk for losing money due to higher numbers of student absences.
Additionally, smaller but still notable problems would be present throughout this scenario. For example, hot summer weather would be a difficult struggle for many schools that lack proper ventilation and air conditioning. Additionally, because schools closed suddenly under the pandemic with very little warning, there would be very little time to prepare for the upcoming year. This time is essential to ensuring that the school year is planned out well and runs smoothly.
Tony Thurmond, Legislature and Superintendent of Public Instruction, agrees that when schools can reopen again, it must be done correctly as there is very little room for error.
“We share the governor’s aspirations for re-opening our schools as soon as possible,” said Thurmond. “If we are going to do this, it can only be done when we are sure we can protect the health and safety of everyone in our school communities.”