Maryland is one of 13 states and territories that have the most comprehensive K-12 school reopening plans in the nation, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins University.
The Reopening Policy Tracker, which was launched Thursday as part of JHU’s eSchool+ Initiative, uses visualizations to show whether state education officials are assessing 12 critical categories in making their reopening plans.
These categories include COVID-19 protection, before and afterschool programs, school access and transportation, student health services, food and nutrition, parent choice, teacher and staff choice, children with special needs, children who experience poverty or other disadvantages, privacy and engagement and transparency.
On average, states and territories have included between eight and nine of the categories in their school reopening plans. This average was dragged by down by eight states and territories that have considered none of the categories: American Samoa, Guam, Idaho, Kansas, New York, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Researchers pursued this project because they believe this is the most pressing issue the country currently faces, said Megan Collins, an ophthalmology professor who worked on the tracker. Students suffered many losses while schools were closed, said Collins, and low-income students, students of color and students with special needs felt the impact disproportionately.
“From my perspective, I am a pediatric ophthalmologist. I do a lot of work in school-based vision care, and I recognize that schools are essential for, not only an academic environment for children, but they’re also, particularly in more disadvantaged communities, a place where children get health care,” Collins said. “A place where children get several meals during the day. They’re a place where children are supervised during the day, which is really important when you have parents being essential workers.”
The eSchool+ Initiative is an interdisciplinary partnership developing guidance for schools and policy stakeholders to think responsibly and equitably about students during school closures and reopening.
Researchers from the Hopkins’ School of Education, School of Medicine, the Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Berman Institute of Bioethics are working together. The goal is to bring together expertise in ethics, equity and structural injustice, education, school-based health care, food security, and public health policy to the project.
Nationally, 46 state boards of education and 13 national policy organizations have issued policy guidance about reopening K-12 schools, according to initiative researchers. Although equity considerations are crucial to ensuring safe returns for low-income students and students of color, one-third of reopening plans do not mention these considerations at all. Researchers said most others mention them with little detail.
This could still change since the tracker is an on-going real-time examination. Researchers have already made updates to it in the past few days, said Collins, as states and territories further developed their K-12 reopening plans.
Collins said the tracker could bring about important changes.
“Nobody has ever experienced how to operate schools during a worldwide pandemic. And all of us, I think, are trying our best to figure out, ‘How do we support kids?’” Collins said. “So, the goal of having a centralized resource is that we can share information and disseminate what one school district may be doing that another school district wasn’t aware of. And that we can sort of collectively, collaboratively come up with creative solutions to help our most disadvantaged students and, indeed all students.
The initiative has also created a guidance document, “The Ethics of K-12 School Reopening: Identifying and Addressing the Values at Stake,” a COVID-19 school reopening checklist, a “School News Roundup” biweekly e-newsletter, and examples of equity-oriented reopening polices.