The Learning Accelerator Blog/Strategy Lab Expert Talk Redux: Safe School Reopening

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Strategy Lab Expert Talk Redux: Safe School Reopening

by The Learning Accelerator on August 1 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a bevy of risks that affect almost every aspect of our lives. Chief among these risks is returning to in-person learning and the increased opportunity for the transmission of the COVID-19 virus. However, returning to in-person learning also greatly minimizes the risks associated with remote learning, which include loss of learning time, reduced detection of child abuse, negative impacts to social-emotional development, nutritional and job insecurity, and lack of access to essential services. School leaders and policy makers must balance these risks as they weigh school reopening for the unique context of their community.


The Learning Accelerator, in partnership with Ariadne Labs, launched the Parabola Project in response to school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One resource that was developed as a result of this partnership, the School Reopening Readiness Guide, was created with the goal of providing actionable guidance on how to understand and minimize risks while maximizing learning and wellness during the pandemic. Created in collaboration with educators and health experts, this resource includes a comprehensive guide to ensuring safe school reentry along with the understanding that its recommendations will change as the pandemic continues to unfold and evolve.

Dr. Asaf Bitton, Executive Director of Ariadne Labs, shared these key principles for safe school reopening during a talk with leaders from Strategy Lab districts on July 24, 2020. Bitton highlighted the nuances of the risks of COVID-19 for the education community, including the many unspoken and indirect risks that result from school closures.

  • When discussing school reopening, the most common risks identified are those directly related to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Dr. Bitton reminds his audience that there are many other weighty implications to school closures, such as loss of learning time and negative impacts on social and emotional development, and points to the data indicating the measures that can be implemented to help control the spread while also allowing for safer in-person instruction.
  • When planning for safe re-opening, there are nine key public health principles to consider that serve as the driving force of the School Reopening Readiness Guide - each partnered with strategies for implementation and Dr. Bitton’s expert perspective on how to implement and allow for flexibility during reopening as each community and school brings with it a unique set of circumstances that require a variety of implementation methods.
  • When planning for school re-opening, consider these three, key elements:
  1. Each health principle contains a variety of sub-principles and with each sub-principle are multiple strategies for implementation. It’s unlikely, and most often unnecessary, to implement each strategy identified within the sub-principles. Survey the needs of your district and or school to determine your highest priorities for implementation.
  2. In addition to prioritizing which sub-principles and strategies you will implement, measure and track your progress. As the pandemic evolves, so too will your reopening plans. You can continually reassess and update your status and priorities as you move through the reopening process.
  3. Plan with flexibility in mind. Your reopening plans can and will change based upon the context of your community and the needs of your staff, students, and families.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve so does our understanding of how the virus is transmitted. While each community context is unique, we do know that, depending on the context, safely reopening schools is possible with the right strategies in place. Continue to visit the Parabola Project for tools, strategies, and resources for schools to implement safety measures for in person learning while focusing on students’ wellness and learning.


Editor’s note:
While Dr. Bitton and the Parabola Project team have provided a set of implementation options, please note that this guide and its suggestions do not serve as a replacement for state and federal guidelines in regards to COVID-19 transmission and best practices. We suggest that you partner the
School Reopening Readiness Guide with our expert talks and Strategy Lab panels to hear more from those involved in its creation and from district an

Pitfall 5: Getting stuck in periods of indecision.

The design process can be messy, and it includes intentional periods of divergence where your research, interviews, and brainstorming activities lead to an overwhelming set of possibilities with no clear path forward. However, it is important to build tolerance for this divergence, as it is a process that expands teams’ thinking – opening folks up to brand-new possibilities – before the equally important work of converging (or aligning on a path forward).

How to Avoid It: Communicate to your team that divergence is an expected and important part of this process. Celebrate when your team diverges, as this is a sign that you are thinking innovatively. At the same time, regularly reassure people that convergence will happen, and perhaps even share a timeline, method, and decision-making approach for how you will eventually reach convergence.

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