Gauging the Potential Post-Pandemic State of American Public School Education
As public schools across the United States slowly get students back into classrooms, many are left wondering when things will really go back to normal. Even as the nation’s youth return to class, they’re still expected to abide by social distancing guidelines and mask mandates. Most public health experts expect these measures to remain in place for at least one more school year.
Notions of what normalcy will look like – the day when masks are no longer required, and classmates can sit next to each other eating lunch and play together during recess – fail to appreciate the ways the pandemic has permanently changed public education. The new normal will look a lot like the old one, but with several key differences.
For one thing, many school districts will realign their budgets to make more room for auxiliary staff needed to manage the aftershock of the pandemic. An increased emphasis on school counseling and other student resources will be considered essential rather than optional. Extra custodial staff will be needed to meet a higher standard of cleanliness, while more nurses will be hired to manage hotspots.
Many of these positions will be temporary, but others will be long-term add-ons. Critics will blame unions and gripe about rising taxes, but the increase in counselors, nurses, and custodians will result from renewed interest in student health and wellness. The pandemic has exposed society’s vulnerabilities to an entire generation of students while simultaneously reminding everyone of the threat posed by infectious disease. While the chances of a second deadly pandemic in our lifetime is low, it’s fair to assume those odds are a result of enhanced efforts to prevent it from happening again. Parents, teachers, and public health officials will insist on beefing up measures and resources meant to protect against infection and other potential threats.
If asked what worries them most about their kids going back to the classroom, many American parents will have the same shocking but unsurprising answer: the possibility of a school shooting happening and their child getting hurt or killed. Unfortunately, despite the low odds of it happening, concern over the threat of a mass shooter is something every American parent has a right to be worried about. The amount of gun violence in the United States has everyone thinking about the danger posed by armed psychopaths. Given the history of schools as settings of violent tragedy, school districts are under mounting pressure to do more to keep students out of harm’s way.
For many school districts, the answer is an investment in security, both in terms of technology and personnel. From a taxpayer’s perspective, these measures add up to more money going to the local government. But from a parent’s perspective, these investments serve as peace of mind. As dystopian and depressing as installing metal detectors in schools sounds, it’s better than the alternative.
Student vaccination requirements vary by state, with some more strict than others. It’s safe to expect a tightening of these requirements across the board. While some states will remain comparatively lackadaisical in regards to vaccination requirements for students, others will make it mandatory for students to show proof of vaccine against COVID-19. As of now, no such provision is in place given the age limits on the vaccine, but once children of all ages can get jabbed, expect states to require it in order for kids to be enrolled in public school.
The threats of gun violence and infectious disease have forever altered the way we approach public school education. Given the unacceptable tragedy of the alternative, these new measures and investments are worth the effort and cost.