If you do an Internet search for “K-12 education 2021”, you will find a selection of predictions about how the K-12 education system could be reinvented following COVID-19. However, if you search for the same term, and swap the year to 2020, you’ll find the reason why few of these predictions will come true.
In October 2020, the National Conference of State Legislatures published an article entitled “Will the Pandemic Change the Way We Deliver K-12 Education?”. The article discussed the challenges facing the K-12 education system both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic and the difficult decisions being made by schools, teachers, and parents about how to deliver education during the pandemic.
The article argues that now (i.e., fall 2020) is the time for legislators to rethink how K-12 education is delivered. However, while advocating a joint effort to reinvent the K-12 education system, the article also acknowledges “most of the final decisions about whether and how to reopen—and the logistics of doing so—were left to the locals” (i.e., school districts). Almost a year later, little has changed.
States More Involved, but Guidance is Hotchpotch
The peaks and troughs of the COVID-19 pandemic last fall led to many states declaring and relaxing states of emergency at different times – during which school districts were mostly guided by local health agencies rather than state legislatures. Although the states of emergency have been lifted, the guidance being provided by state legislatures for the fall 2021 semester is a hotchpotch of requirements, benchmarks, advisories, and plans that are “subject to change”.
Due to the unpredictable nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and the way in which vaccines are not proving to be as effective against new variants, you cannot fault state legislators for being non-committal. Nonetheless, the wide and non-standard range of requirements, benchmarks, advisories, and plans suggest state legislators are no closer to making a joint effort to reinvent the K-12 education system than they were twelve months ago, with many decisions still “left to the locals”.
To further complicate the issue, many states already allowed school districts to utilized remote learning under their normal regulatory frameworks before the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, school districts in states that allow remote learning will be able to make “student-centered decisions” (potentially deferring to parents´ wishes) with regards to whether students are required to attend in-person classes irrespective of state requirements, benchmarks, advisories, and plans.
Where Does This Leave School Districts?
The lack of a joint effort between state legislators to reinvent the K-12 education system while an opportunity existed leaves school districts in much the same place as they were before the pandemic. Although there is undoubtedly a better general understanding about how best to educate students remotely, it will be left to each school district (again) to decide how to reopen for the fall semester and the logistics for doing so.
The difference this time around is that K-12 stimulus funds are available to support school districts and programs that counteract “learning loss”. Because of the ways in which the funds are being prioritized, they will help reduce the education inequality gap between students in richer and poorer areas, help school districts provide better mental health resources, and help support preparedness planning if schools are forced to close again due to a further wave of COVID-19.
However, a problem still exists of how school districts communicate with staff, parents, and students. More than a quarter of respondents to our Survey of Crisis Communication and Safety in Education said they experienced issues contacting parents and students, and this implies that when school districts make decisions related to closing, reopening, or operating a hybrid environment, it may not be possible to communicate the decisions effectively to school populations.
Solutions to Resolve K-12 School District Communication Issues
K-12 school district communication issues have the potential to jeopardize plans to reopen schools safely for the fall 2021 semester. Furthermore, as school districts that fail to spend stimulus funding effectively can be excluded from future K-12 stimulus packages, it is worthwhile identifying where communication issues may exist in your school district to ensure they are resolved before the fall semester begins so staff, parents, and students are reliably informed about school protocols.
If you would like further advice about identifying and resolving K-12 school district communication issues, we invite you to get in touch with our team of K-12 communication experts to discuss issues you may have with mass notifications, tactical incident collaboration, COVID-19 preparedness, or communicating with parents and students beyond the classroom. Our team will be happy to organize a demo of our solutions to resolve K-12 communication issues tailored to your needs.