As the summer draws to a close, the question over whether reopen schools – and how to do so safely – has moved to the forefront of public discourse. Having long partnered with educational institutions, OpenEyes sees IT and technology in general as useful tools for ensuring education is carried out safely and effectively.
The decision schools have to make this fall is a complex one. As has been the case throughout the pandemic, the heaviest burden of online education has fallen on service workers and their families. Without the opportunity of remote work, many essential workers have been forced to choose between going to work and remaining at home to support their children. As of June, 13% of US parents had reduced their hours or left their jobs in order to stay home with their kids according to The Washington Post. At-home education has also been especially difficult for students without access to a computer – about 17% of US students according to the AP – and for the hundreds of thousands of homeless students.
While remote learning has left millions of students behind, the realities of returning to classrooms during a pandemic cannot be ignored. An analysis from The New York Times found that over 80% of Americans live in counties with a 500-person school where at least one infected student is expected to arrive in the first week alone.
Clearly, there is no perfect solution here, but there are tools that can be used to make any potential plan of action safer and more effective. Online learning programs are going to play an integral role in schools that remain online, as well as those that stay open. The CDC recommends that students and teachers do not share objects – such as papers – meaning classrooms may need to rely on the internet even for in person classes. Learning management systems and other forms of online education services are useful tools in making remote learning more comprehensive and more enjoyable for students.
Some schools are embracing surveillance tools in order to retrace the movements and contacts of students who develop symptoms or test positive for the coronavirus. The school district in New Albany, Ohio is requiring all students to wear an electronic device that can track their movements down to a few feet while they are in school. Administrators hope that this plan will allow them to effectively contact trace for any infected students. The Massachusetts Department of Higher Education is considering a similar plan for its state universities as is the Kiski School, a private boarding school in Pennsylvania. Contract tracing apps that use Bluetooth signals to track students’ phones are also being developed for some universities, including the University of Arizona.
Others have embraced strategies of utilizing technology to reduce viral spread through the air. Queens Grant High School in North Carolina has installed ultraviolet lights throughout their campus in order to kill the virus particles that circulate in the air. While this technique, which has been used by some hospitals, cannot prevent face-to-face transmission, it can reduce the viral load circulating in indoor spaces. The air quality approach could be promising according to Joseph Allen, director of the Healthy Buildings Program at the Harvard University School of Public Health, who said air purifiers and filters could be useful to reducing airborne transmission in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.
OpenEyes believes that technology has the power to improve people’s lives. As a longtime partner of educational institutions and online learning services provider, OpenEyes understands the importance of using IT to enhance the educational experience for students and teachers. Regardless of the way schools choose to navigate reopening, OpenEyes hopes they can take advantage of resources to ensure a safe and equitable learning environment and stands ready to assist them in this goal.