How COVID-19 Might Impact the 2020-2021 School Year
Much confusion has surrounded the nation’s back-to-school efforts as states and individual districts argue over how to best balance student health and learning.
But the impact of COVID-19 goes beyond this first half of the school year and even a probable early-2021 vaccine. School budgets, facilities and student learning can suffer equally from extended absence or rushing back too quickly.
The important takeaway is that district administrators need to balance ensuing long-term budget alterations with attention to short-term facilities management and preventing student learning loss to ensure an optimal learning environment for students long after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The major economic downturn and varying levels of statewide shutdowns portend trouble on the horizon for school districts. Most school districts receive a significant portion of funding from local property and sales taxes. With a nationwide spending slump, many experts forecast major budget shortfalls in the coming school years — if not immediately — unless Congress and state legislatures provide significant additional funding.
For perspective, during the late-2000s financial crisis, school districts across the country laid off a combined 300,000 teachers and staff. The pandemic-caused downturn promises more cuts — and many schools will require additional funds to properly sanitize facilities.
Without additional funding, the unfortunate ultimatum many schools will face may mean school board members choosing between cutting teachers and vital staff or discarding programs that enhance student learning.
School buildings themselves will require a funding increase compared to pre-pandemic years. And that’s without accounting for current deferred maintenance backlogs across the country.
Each school will need to invest in cleaning products (e.g., hand sanitizers, disinfectant sprays, deep cleaning products); personal protective equipment for custodial staff, nurses and teachers (e.g., gloves for custodians, daily disposable masks for teachers and students) and additional staff to monitor and protect occupant health — expenses projected to add millions to districts’ budgets.
With regard to equipment, HVAC systems may need modifications or upgrades to optimally protect students and staff. With facilities largely unoccupied and dormant since March, water systems will need flushing and treatment to prevent the possibility of Legionnaires’ Disease.
For a more in-depth look at what educational facilities should consider when safely reopening, read the white paper Cenergistic’s EVP and Chief Engineer, Jack Bullock, P.E., authored.
How Will Schools Open?
Two competing factors will largely determine how and when schools open — student health and mental retention. Most districts are able to make only short-term plans for maintaining an optimal learning environment for students, and this situation will likely continue as more information and events unfold.
While children are statistically less susceptible to the effects of COVID, breaking quarantine can still bring the virus home to family. Additionally, teachers and staff are put at risk. On the other hand, experts warn a 100-percent online learning experience minimizes learning retention and the lack of social interaction with peers can have severe developmental consequences for growing children.
Most sports and other extracurricular activities have already been canceled, rescheduled for the spring or significantly altered for social distancing.
Scenarios districts are considering for pandemic teaching in 2020-21:
Scenario 1: Continued Virtual Learning
Many districts plan to continue remote learning, led by Los Angeles Unified and the School District of Palm Beach County, each in the middle of a major pandemic hotspot. For these school districts, questions abound as to whether telelearning can provide each student a fair and equitable education. Many districts are scrambling to ensure necessary technology, Internet connections and proper cybersecurity are available to all students — and teachers.
Many states have laws on the books requiring a certain number of days of in-person learning for districts to receive full funding. States waived these requirements in March and April, but some states have pressured districts to reopen or risk losing further funds.
Scenario 2: Schools Reopen
A number of districts are fully reopening schools to all students, with a remote opt-out available. Schools are advised to require all students, teachers and staff to wear masks and practice proper hygiene.
Scenario 3: Hybrid
Most districts are offering a combination of in-person and remote instruction. These offer families maximum flexibility, allowing limited in-person learning or a full return to assist parents going back to work, or total online learning for those who wish to remain home.
Some districts, such as the New York City Department of Education, will limit classroom attendance to three days a week or fewer, combined with online learning. Others, like Scott County School District in Missouri, will offer a partial reopening, where buildings are open four or five days a week but students are assigned different times to attend.
Cenergistic as a Solution
As districts attempt to balance shrinking budgets with providing a safe and optimal learning environment for students, Cenergistic provides a potential answer. With our comprehensive energy conservation solution that first ensures buildings are operated safely and comfortably, districts can free up utility expenses and repurpose them into funds for student learning. With savings used to offset budget cuts, budget constraints become minimal.
Find out how your district can take control of its budget by contacting Cenergistic online or calling 1-855-798-7779 calling today.