A Dark Knight for Educational Equity?

By Joseph S. Lento

Is it at all possible for good to arise out of tragedy? This is a question that has been asked throughout the ages and often ‘Romanticized’ as a mechanism to cope with the injustices of war, famine, plague and oppression, but is it possible for an insidious Assassin such COVID -19 to bring about change in disparate societal norms? 

First, we should examine the inequity in our educational system through ‘Class Size.’ No matter how much educators voice their desire for smaller class sizes, this has not happened other than marginal gains using little more than a Band Aid approach to a problem that requires surgery.

What teacher working with underprivileged children of 34 students per class (with little or no access to tutors, music lessons, chess, swimming or golf) would not welcome the day class sizes were cut in half?  What student wouldn’t welcome it? The benefits would be enormous for the students not to mention adhering to ‘Social Distancing’ in order to prevent the spread of the virus, and, going forward, all the ‘New Norms’ we must accustom ourselves to. 

Based on all the science and medical reports it is impossible for schools to reopen and adhere to Social Distancing without immediate reform. This reform is crucial if we don’t want to spread the virus and the possible deaths of tens of millions of children, their families, and everyone connected to the ‘Educational Infrastructure’ i.e. teachers, custodians, administrative personnel, cafeteria employees as well as public and private transportation operators. Do we realize just how vast a network our schools comprise? 

The most pressing and factual reason schools cannot reopen under their present construct is that schools cannot practice the medical and government mandated Social Distancing. Even in the most supported schools, students sit mere inches apart from each other in class, the Cafeteria, the Subways and Buses. In the halls they walk right next to each other. 

Teachers often stand directly above or next to your child when teaching. Students share books, toys, puzzles, Instruments, Science and Sporting equipment, Locker Rooms, Gymnasiums and Computers. There are few Bathrooms for hundreds and sometimes thousands of students. School personnel have similar ratios of Bathrooms to its adult employee population. Schools are often understaffed with Custodians who are often overburdened. Schools still use Water Fountains where countless children drink from and in normal times spread their saliva and sputum on the faucet. Of all public and private sector organizations schools have the highest levels of human density and proximity. Until this Virus is contained it will be a matter of Life or Death to reopen schools.

In order to bring about public confidence, the initial phase of schools reopening must follow the medical and government mandated Social Distancing. In order to accomplish this, we must use a ‘Split Schedule’ supplemented by on-line support. This is a simple alternating or permanent Block Schedule of all classes at joint physical locations supplemented by on- line support. This would provide an instant reduction in class sizes by fifty percent and save countless lives not to mention the financial burden and grief that would even further fracture families and the Economy.

Here is what a basic ‘Split Schedule’ would resemble. For example, we schedule Math, Science and English on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 7:45 am to 11:30am This includes 15 minutes break between classes and 30 minutes for dismissal. The afternoon schedule would run from Noon until 3:45pm with the same breaks allotted between classes. Where possible I would implement students remaining in one location and the teachers traveling to them. This is only a suggestion in order to limit movement. 

On Tuesday and Thursday we can hold Art, Music, P.E. and World Languages using the same schedule as we would on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This schedule can be alternated with the Monday, Wednesday and Friday schedule or any other permutation that fits the needs of your community.

Having fifty percent less students in a school at any given time would also benefit our special needs populations as there will be much more space and personnel available. Classroom sizes can be doubled by combing adjacent classes. 

Educational resources would automatically be doubled because when Mr. Lento is not teaching on the days he is assigned to the school building, he is holding remote tutoring sessions or working to support students. Heretofore such resources were only for the wealthy but in this paradigm students would be able to access Art, Music and other enrichment lessons simply by signing up because Educators are now available to children in ways previously not thought of. 

If students need tutoring in any subject all they need do is sign up to get the personal attention they need. Personal attention which otherwise was previously not available because their teachers were not available but using a ‘Split Schedule’ teachers are. 

This model instantly cuts class sizes in half and doubles teacher availability! When children are not attending their morning or afternoon schedule, they will be on-line accessing various educational/artistic resources through the faculty at their schools. This is an enormous win for our underserved communities and all students in general.

All those ‘after school’ programs could be cut because the students could access teachers as just mentioned and no one has to be in a building past 3:45pm Think of the Money this would save and the personal tutoring students would receive which would result in Academic and Socio Emotional benefits otherwise denied.

So, what of school breakfast and lunch programs and what of school transportation programs and other school related personnel? Please keep in mind that we often make things too complicated and as teacher my goal is to make things less complex and more accessible. Here’s my plan:

No more congregating in the school cafeteria. The days of loud and noisy school Cafeterias are over. All students who want and qualify for free Breakfast and Lunch will receive it in a take home bag. This program requires a one day start up prior to school opening. The day before school begins, students or their parents will receive Breakfast and Lunch for their first day of school. The food will be such that it is not immediately perishable. Muffins, Bagels, Juices, Water and even Microwaveable items. Students will eat at home. Once school has started all children will receive the following days Breakfast and Lunch upon leaving school. 

In order to increase support for students; preserve jobs, and lift people to another level of professional opportunity, all Food Service employees will be trained by Teachers (already on staff) to work as school support personnel during the hours they would otherwise have been in the school’s Kitchen. This would add another layer of support for students they previously did not have. Using teachers to train (who more qualified than a teacher to train others about school?) and transition these employees would save tens of millions of Dollars across the nation in consulting fees. 

The role of Transportation Operators, Custodial personnel, Administrative Assistants, school Psychologists, Guidance Counselors, Speech, Physical and Occupational Therapists would not be impacted. 

Unless we implement this program, dire consequences will result. Scores of millions of students will lose any hope of Educational Equity because Educators will be lost. This plan saves Money and increases productivity and most of all it will exponentially increase student success! COVID-19 can be the Dark Knight that turn this Pandemic into Educational Equity, if we can see beyond are conventional ways.

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