School districts in the United States are in a period of profound uncertainty, which will likely persist throughout the 2020–2021 school year. Many agree that remote teaching in spring 2020 was piecemeal and sub-optimal. Now, despite a stated universal commitment to full-time, in-person, high-caliber education, many states have rising rates of COVID-19, and teachers and parents share deep health concerns. Already we have witnessed a rapid and seismic transition from the beginning of this summer — in June, many schools planned to open full-time for in-person learning — to near-universal adoption of hybrid or remote teaching models. In fact, as of August 26th, 24 of the 25 largest school districts in the US will start their school year providing remote-only education.
Seeking perspective on a safe return to school
I began the summer thinking that I could contribute in some small way to fusing together basic public health and educational principles toward a safe return to school. I teach a course at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health on big public health campaigns. My daughter, an urban education scholar, lectures in my class on the value of parent-teacher collaboration. As a grandparent of three little boys ages 7, 4, and 3, and as a parent and father-in-law of two children and their spouses facing extraordinarily difficult decisions concerning school and day care, I am personally invested.
A colleague from a large social service agency shared a story of parents working in the hospitality industry. They face having to leave children, ages 6 and 8, home alone during the day trying to learn remotely. My own story — working years ago as a day care worker and unionized steelworker — affords me a sense of kinship with teachers. And during the past three months, while writing guidelines for school