Long-term school closures are a particularly devastating consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic. Students could lose between 5 to 9 months of learning by the end of the school year, with greater losses for students of color, who could be up to 12 months behind. Kindergarten enrollment is down by 17 percent, which could hamper critical literacy and socio-emotional learning for those children for years to come. Increased stress related to the pandemic is driving an increase in the number of teachers leaving their jobs.

This isn’t sustainable. At the same time, a bumpy start to vaccine rollout and the uncertainty around new viral variants means schools are navigating reopening decisions well before the virus is eradicated or well controlled.

In this environment, school reopening is difficult but doable. During the most recent meeting of the Pandemic Solutions Group, local officials from three public school districts that were “early adopters” of robust in-school testing programs shared key learnings from their experiences:

  • Mayor Kim Driscoll of Salem, Massachusetts
  • Kyle Schumacher and Dr. Ed Campbell, La Grange District 102, Illinois
  • Jennifer Huh, Del Mar Union School District and Dr. Sayone Thihalolipavan, San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency

LaGrange District 102 and Del Mar Union School District were featured in a recent RAND Corporation working paper commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation on testing strategies in K-12 schools.

The local officials described the complex logistical details involved with Covid-19 testing such as consenting families, getting equipment, and acting on the test results. The most enlightening lessons for all three contexts, however, focused on the human relationships and networks that made safe reopening possible. Creating clear communication channels, building trust, and identifying strong partners are critically important components of a school reopening strategy.

The strategies deployed in each of these communities reflect their local contexts – underscoring that there is no one-size-fits-all method to reopening. That being said, as the federal government issues new guidance and provides additional funding to support reopening, lessons from these early adopters can inform district leaders across the country.

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