What are your school’s decision triggers for closing back down again?

The Buck Stops Here signYou’ve opened up school again and at least some students and teachers are attending in person. Unsurprisingly, some students, families, or educators begin to identify as positive for COVID-19. Now what?

How many kids have to get sick before you shut down again? What are your decision-making criteria? [practice saying these out loud and see how they sit with you]

Well, if 1 kid gets sick, that’s sad but we’ll stay open…

Well, if 10 kids get sick, that’s terrible but we’ll stay open…

Well, if 100 kids get sick, that’s a tragedy but we’ll stay open…

If 50 kids at that one school get sick, we will shut that school down but the rest of the district will stay open…

Until 20% of our students are sick, we’ll stay open…

How many educators have to get sick before you shut down again? What are your decision-making criteria? [practice saying these out loud and see how they sit with you]

Well, if 1 educator gets sick, that’s sad but we’ll stay open…

Well, if 10 educators get sick, that’s terrible but we’ll stay open…

Well, if 100 educators get sick, that’s a tragedy but we’ll stay open…

If 20 teachers at that one school get sick, we will shut that school down but the rest of the district will stay open…

Until 30% of our educators are sick, we stay open…

Until we can’t get enough substitutes to adequately cover classrooms, we stay open…

How many kids or educators have to die before you shut down again? What are your decision-making criteria? [practice saying these out loud and see how they sit with you]

Well, if 1 kid dies, that’s sad but we’ll stay open…

Well, if 10 kids die, that’s a tragedy but we’ll stay open…

Well, if 3 teachers die, that’s terrible but we’ll stay open…

Well, if 20 teachers die, that’s a tragedy but we’ll stay open…

Until 10% of our staff are dying, we’ll stay open…

Some schools are tracking their state or local health department data for guidance, but community spread is an imperfect match for school system spread. Accordingly, school systems should be prepared to make the kinds of decisions noted above, which means that school leaders are going to need to be very clear with their educators, families, and communities about what their ‘decision triggers’ are. 

Decision triggers are critical thresholds that trigger action if crossed. If school systems don’t identify and articulate their decision triggers beforehand for when schools will need to reclose again, then they will be hammered by educators, families, and community members who have their own decision triggers and will be angry that you’re not following theirs.

What do you mean 10 infected children are acceptable? Don’t you know those children may infect their siblings and vulnerable family members?

What do you mean you’re okay with 5 teachers dying? How heartless are you?

What do you mean that you’re waiting for state or local guidance? In the meantime, kids and educators are getting sick and some are probably going to die!

What are your school’s decision triggers for closing back down again? Have you made those public to your educators and community?

6 Responses to “What are your school’s decision triggers for closing back down again?”

  1. Impossible choices. Thanks for the clarity.

    Many of the news articles and politicians talk about kids and how they “don’t get it so bad.” https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/07/20/missouri-gov-mike-parson-says-kids-get-over-covid-19/5474557002/ This is playing Russian roulette with young people. Who knows how one child’s body may react to the virus? There are many things that can go wrong with this thinking. Plus long-term heart/lung/blood effects are turning up.

    Some of the same news articles/politicians don’t mention the adults. The teachers, administrators, staff, janitors, cafeteria workers, busdrivers, etc., etc. As though the kids are not around any adults – or as though the adults are the canaries in the coal mines. Expendable.

    Then there’s the ever-widening homework gap. If the answer is online learning how about the students with no devices/no Internet? NYC and Philadelphia decided to give devices to every kid. Can other schools afford this? How is it really working? https://www.edsurge.com/news/2020-06-16-covid-19-has-widened-the-homework-gap-into-a-full-fledged-learning-gap

    There’s also the haves and the have nots and the ever widening economic gap. Pods of parents are deciding to hire teachers for their kids and fund this. Who has the money for this? Who is chosen to be in a pod? Will any pods allow “scholarship kids”? https://www.wsj.com/articles/amid-coronavirus-parents-pod-up-to-form-at-home-schools-11595323805

    We are digging even deeper into the abyss.

  2. Impossible choices, indeed. And yet we have to make them. Even NOT making them is a choice.

    If we don’t articulate what our decision triggers are, we’re just winging it and we should be prepared for all of the pushback that accompanies winging it.

    • And all of these impossible decisions are being made in the midst of the final weeks of an election cycle that may be the most divisive in my lifetime! Public health guidance (and school opening and even the requirement for masks) have sadly become aligned with political decisions. From research at NSBA, the nation’s school board members are a close reflection of the political preferences of the larger American public. These next couple of months will be particularly trying for our school communities, especially when considered through this lens.

  3. Even with articulated decision triggers, most states headed straight past them in April, and we see where that got everyone. :/ Plus, all those triggers have a lag time, which means increased risks.

    Basically, it’s turtles all the way down.

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