While some White House officials and parents are pushing for schools to reopen completely in the fall despite a raging global pandemic, many others have been expressing concern that there might not be a way to safely gather hundreds of students, teachers, and staff members in one building.
The Manatee County School District in Florida recently released an informational video depicting how school might look when it reopens. Policies include social distancing, mask wearing, temperature checks, and pre-packed lunches. The video caused fear and alarm in the hearts of parents and others who think it looks "sad" and "apocalyptic."
The video shows teachers in masks, face shields, and lab coats, students masked and seated six feet away from each other, and students walking — zombielike — in single-file social-distanced lines. They're seated alone, six feet away from each other at lunch, and they will be submitted to random temperature checks.
The first thing that crossed many parents' minds while watching this is that it doesn't seem realistic. Erica Howard, who has a child enrolled in the school district, told BuzzFeed News, "The fact that they expect this to happen — expecting kids to sit at tables away from each other, having fields between them, especially preschoolers and kindergarteners ..I didn't think it was realistic."
While she submits that schools need to open because there are parents who have to work and can't watch their kids during the day, she doesn't think this plan will work out. And she's not alone.
Kids of all ages — but especially littler kids — have trouble following directions, not touching each other, etc. You think after five or six months or not seeing any of their friends, kids are going to be able to sit quietly alone and eat lunch?
On top of the fact that this plan most certainly will be thwarted by over-excited, hyperactive children, so many people pointed out that it just looks so sad. Tiffany Jenkins, whose kids go to school in a nearby district and who runs the TikTok account, @jugglingthejenkins, reposted the video and called it "apocalyptic-y" and "Hunger Games-y." In her caption, she writes, "I feel like I'm living in an M. Night Shyamalan movie, dude."
Jenkins said of the video, "It made me sad how different the experience would be. It feels like a punishment for the kids. That makes me sad. The kids are kids. The idea that they face to focus on distancing, or to keep their masks on to be so far from their friends, it's heartbreaking."
Many Facebook commenters agree. There are over 800 comments on the school district's video post, and many of them read like this: "This video makes me so sad! I know the faculty and staff have worked so hard to come up with solutions. I can’t imagine all the moving parts these school districts are dealing with. But this is just creepy to me! I hope for our children this is not their new normal."
And this: "Wow the school district of Manatee County is crazy. No way is opening the schools good for anybody. This will have really bad consequences. It's sad that the kids and teachers and employees of the schools have to risk their lives for the negligence of district leaders."
The Manatee County School District is, according to their website, offering three different options for returning to school when it opens on August 18. Students can either attend school for in-person learning five days a week, a hybrid of in-person and e-learning, or full-time e-learning.
Howard told BuzzFeed News she has not been made aware of how many students are slated to return for in-person learning or what schools will do if they have to manage large numbers of kids. Jenkins and Howard both acknowledged that this is tough situation for schools and for parents who don't want to put their kids at risk but also don't want them to miss out on essential learning.
This planning and these conversations in school districts should have started a long time ago. But the fact of the matter is that no one knows what's going to happen with the virus in the coming months. One thing is certain though: It's not worth risking the lives of students, teachers, staff, and families for an "apocalyptic," distracting, and seemingly unenforceable new school experience.