Read below for their full answers to your questions.
Would students be required to wear masks for the entire school day, even if class numbers are reduced?
Herbart: “Yes. I believe that’s important. I’m not so worried about student to student contact. I’m very worried about student educator contact. Children we know are less susceptible, it seems to be, through all the data from scientists, that adults are not.”
She tells CNN that education is going to look very different. “We’re going to have to wear protective masks, we may have to wear plastic gloves, we may have to wash. Learning will not be the same as it was prior to March 1. It just won’t be, and we can’t expect it to be.”
She cautions that parents and school workers will need to be flexible in combining both distance and face to face learning and that communities and legislators will need to provide the necessary support to make that happen.
Robbins says he will highly encourage mask wearing at the university, and plans to wear one himself, but can’t mandate students wear masks at all times. “The classroom is under the control of the professor,” he says.
“We pretty much think that that will be sort of, at the, the professor’s discretion and would be more mandatory if you will, that if you’re inside our buildings you need to cover your face. And then for the open spaces, it’s going to be more difficult to enforce. But that, that’s sort of our current thinking.”
Robbins recently appointed Dr. Richard Carmona, the 17th US surgeon general, to lead the university’s re-entry task force. Together they are looking at robust safety measures and guidelines they can issue before welcoming students back.
How do we manage school bathrooms in middle and high schools where teachers and staff are generally not monitoring students in that space?
Herbart proposes sending kids to the bathroom one at a time. “One way we could do it is put X’s on the hallway tapes, 6 feet apart, and one by one go into the restroom. Many elementary schools have bathrooms in classrooms so they’ve always had a one-on-one experience, but one of the things we’re going to do as educators is teach children how to socially distance before we can teach them anything about academics.”
She says you should expect lessons on day one about how you wash your hands, how you wear a mask, what a communicable disease is and what Covid-19 means.
How can we control and protect kids during recess or gym?
Herbart: “I’m not certain that recess time will be traditional as to how we used to do it. I think that it will be at the teacher’s discretion that she takes her 10 or 12 students that she has in her classroom, goes outside for five or 10 minutes and you know, assigns students equipment or whatever. It’s all very nebulous right now at best.”
Will universities suspend in campus living in the fall semester?
The University of Arizona is not planning on suspending in campus living but they will reduce the capacity. Robbins tells CNN they initially planned on single occupancy dorm rooms that would give them capacity for 4,500 students, “but we heard from our students that many of them would prefer a roommate,” so they’re looking into it.
He adds that the majority of their students live off campus, in an “unregulated, uncontrolled environment,” that they need to take into account as those students will be coming to and from the school grounds.
What is stopping college students interacting in close contact outside of class?
Robbins: Nothing. “College students just like everybody else, they have some mission creep and lack of discipline. And so this is a great opportunity for us to educate them and say, this is not so much about protecting yourself except it’s about protecting society and others, particularly the high risk individuals and you don’t know who those are.”
How do we protect older professors on campuses that will have in-person classes? And younger teachers who may be care-givers taking care of older parents at home?
Herbart: “We’ve done preliminary survey results and I can tell you that educators are not concerned about themselves, they’re concerned about taking it home to their family, they’re concerned about their students getting it and giving it to their families.” She explains how one university is setting up clear dividers in lecture halls, like the ones that shield grocery workers, and says that could be an option, as educators will “always want to roam the class to see how student work is going.”
Robbins: “We’re going to build in appropriate social distancing in all classrooms and activities. We’re going to have educational programs to encourage vigorous hand-washing, social distancing, face covers, tracing. And then for those who are positive to be able to isolate and treat them in a quarantine environment.”
Will teachers get the option to work from home if they feel unsafe?
Herbart: “We may have teachers who are doing face to face, with stronger immune systems and better situations, and teachers who are supporting the distance learning that have compromised situations. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable thing to consider and I think it allows both educators to have and fulfill their obligations… we can’t let one educator go to waste right now.”
Robbins: “A hundred percent. We’ll have a flexible policy. If they don’t feel safe enough, they can teach their class by Zoom. Now it may be that they have 20 students who want the in class experience and there may be, you know, a large screen with the professor giving a lecture, remotely, but there would be proctors or TAs to facilitate class discussion and the in person experience. Everyone has a choice here. We’re allowing flexibility and they get to decide the risk reward in every individual one at a time.”
Will students be tested before classes start? Are households with school age kids going to be periodically tested?
Herbart: “I don’t think it’s realistic to test every student… But I do think it’s realistic to test every adult who’s encountering students, since we know that they’re at higher risk.”
Robbins has a robust three-T plan, “to test, trace and treat.”
“The testing we’re going to offer, it’s not mandatory. We’re going to offer it to volunteers who want to be tested and we feel very confident that we’ll be able to offer the antibody test to everyone, all faculty, students, staff.”
Their contact tracing will involve a mixture of in-person contact tracing and an app, but administered on a voluntary basis. Robbins says his biggest concern is sick patients or asymptomatic patients refusing to get tested or cooperate in contact tracing efforts but, “I think because of privacy we can’t mandate it.”
“We hope that there’ll be a big shift in culture that we will all do this as good, global citizens and for the betterment of society.”
Should school nurses be responsible to check temperatures daily and even administer Covid tests? If nurses will be responsible for sick patients or screening patients, do you need to hire more nurses and have isolation rooms?
Herbart: “In Michigan, anecdotally, I can tell you that we don’t even have one school nurse for every school district in some of our areas.” She says that has to change. “If we’re going to return to buildings, there has to be a plan and procedure in place that there is somebody from the medical profession who is assessing students in a way that makes reasonable sense for a learning environment.” In addition to isolation rooms, the whole infrastructure of schools needs to be given more attention, she says, including ventilation systems.
Robbins doesn’t anticipate the University of Arizona having to hire many additional health care workers, only staff to help with contact tracing efforts. “We’ve got great public health students who are eager to do this. We’ve got medical students, nursing students, pharmacy students. So we feel pretty confident that we can at least make a good effort to put maximal protection. But again, not going to be risk-free.”
It’s great to talk about smaller classes to social distance but where are all the extra teachers coming from? And the payroll? Where will the money come from to make any social distancing refurbishments or adjustments?
“We’ve done a lot of bailing out of huge corporations, airlines and other businesses. If we can’t ensure that our children and our educators are safe in schools and provide funding for that, I don’t know what kind of a country we are anymore.”
She says states will have to realign their budgets and reprioritize. “In Michigan we have huge tax credits for large corporations. If we’re talking about true shared sacrifice, we have to go to the businesses community and say we need the tax dollars, not all of the tax dollars, but some of your tax dollars, to help provide and fill the gap for public education and our children. And this is a crisis. This is not situation normal. This is a national crisis.”
In terms of additional teaching staff, Herbart suggests enrolling student-teachers where there is a need. “We did that with physicians, we did that with nurses when we needed them in the crisis, now is the crisis for public education.”
Robbins is also hoping for extra funds. “We’re unfortunately in a state that doesn’t support higher education as well as some other states. Our donors have really stepped up and been helping us with these types of programs.”
“We’ll try to get as much funding as we possibly can because this will be expensive for us. But at the end we think it’s our duty,” he adds.
What’s going to happen to school lunches in a Covid-19 world?
Herbart is adamant that cafeterias will be closed. School lunches can be made available for those that need them but there will be no communal cafeteria settings. She explains that a regular school day will be a thing of the past, replaced by a split shift scenario of in person learning mixed in with distance learning. “There could be a spot outside of school before students enter where they get their bag lunch. We won’t be eating communally at cafeterias. You’ll be eating your lunch either in your classroom or you’ll be going to school for four hours, picking up your lunch and going back on the bus to go home. Or you’re re-entering for p.m classes, getting your lunch coming in, and then going to school.”
Regarding cafeteria workers, she proposes retraining them since they are already factored into the school budget. “Should they be out of jobs? No. But could they be trained to become pair educators and support personnel? Yes, they could. So we’re going to have to think about what it means to re-educate and retrain some of our support staff to do a central functions that will needed to be done. Maybe there’ll be custodial maintenance workers to ensure the cleanliness of classrooms and buses.”
Robbins: “We will have our union open with food courts, but we’ll do it just like restaurants are doing, properly socially distance seating and people having to wear masks when they go into the restaurant.”
Protocol for dealing with coronavirus incidents
Will schools be closed for a period of time if a student test positive? Will the students and parents be notified of a student who tests positive?
Herbart says it’s possible. “It’s going to have to be, in my opinion, a fluid scenario of opening and closing and teaching face to face or not teaching face to face… I don’t think it’s going to be one size fits all.” She suggests closing schools for longer periods of time when coronavirus is at its peak, or cases have been discovered in school or in communities, and shifting to a totally virtual teaching experience during those periods. For example, starting school in mid-August through Thanksgiving and then closing until New Year when coronavirus is expected to be at is winter peak. However, she maintains that such decisions will need to be fluid.
Asked about parents who may not have the same job flexibility to stay home for weeks when school is out, she says it’s something that needs to be addressed, in addition to means and access to broadband. “We continue to talk about the economy opening up, but unless we’re providing childcare services or opening public schools and other school systems, how are parents able to go back to them?”
Robbins agrees that universities may need to switch to distance learning when a second wave comes and if cases spike and says that’s what keeps him up at night.
For individual instances of Covid-19 contraction, the person would be quarantined. “We would isolate them. We’ve got a dorm already outfitted. It’s an old motel which has doors go directly to the outside. We would take care of their food needs or mental health needs, make sure they have Wi-Fi for the two weeks or however long they need to be quarantined. They could participate in class and then we’re going to have a 10 to 20 bed infirmary. If they got really sick and a high fever and needed to have their oxygen saturation monitored, we can do that. If they do need a hospital, then we’ve got a world class academic medical center right on our campus.”
Robbins adds that the school would aggressively contact trace the sick patient’s interactions, to inform people who may be at risk. However, he cautions they have to be mindful of privacy laws that could prohibit revealing who contracted the infection without their consent.
With all the risks is it worth it?
Herbart: “We’ve shown that distance learning can work. Is it optimal? Absolutely not. We know the strongest educational experience is with teachers and students in the classroom, having interpersonal relationships, and having those kind of contacts. We have to prioritize the need for that and if we can’t safely do that then we have to consider an alternative. That is less effective than what we know would work best. Now that’s going to be the community prioritizing and saying what they value and putting their money where their mouth is.”
Robbins: “I think that our students want the on campus face to face experience. Many of our faculty do, some don’t. So there’s a balance. We’re a big large land grant, private AAU university, and I think it’s our responsibility, to our students, our faculty and our staff to at least do a very thorough scientific analysis of that data and find out what the risk reward is.”
What do you think the long-term damage will be to children who learn about social distancing and do not learn about the value of touching, hugging, etc.? What can parents do to support mental health for children during this time?
Herbart: “We have talked about for years the need for strong mental health services for our students. Nothing brings that home like a national health crisis.” She says she hopes children are receiving lessons on the value of touching and hugging from their family life but acknowledges that not every child will be. She emphasizes the need to focus on every child’s mental health in school.
“We’re going to need to provide mental health supports for students reentering, particularly if they’ve lost somebody or know somebody who has passed away from Covid-19 and who maybe hasn’t had an opportunity to say goodbye in traditional ways that we would normally do.”
Robbins: “I think it’s going to be dramatic. And this is not the last, pandemic we’ll have, and it’s going to change the way we do things.” He agrees that a greater mental health resources need to be provided, adding, “one of the big issues is the angst and the fear of getting this infection. Almost everybody knows someone who’s been sick or died so you know, that’s putting an enormous stress on people, as is being isolated, socially isolated with depression and fear and anxiety.”
What are the best and worst case scenarios on the future of education?
Herbart: “My best-case scenario is that this is a brief moment in time when you’re talking about years and years of schooling. It was approximately six months of students learning distance wise and maybe it will be another six months of distance online combination. That’s almost nothing in the life of a person. It will be something that they will be able to catch up on, students are resilient, people are resilient.”
“My worst-case scenario is that it sets us back in a way that we risk health and lives of individuals that were needless. If we’re not careful now, I believe we’ll have more devastating, not less devastating results because we’ve rushed into it.”
Robbins: “My best-case scenario would be that students come back, they get the rich and full on campus experience. Worst-case scenario would be that we bring people back and then, November 1 we have to send them home because we think it’s too, too much risk and too many people are getting sick.”
Programming Note: CNN will host a “Coronavirus: Facts and Fears” town hall on Thursday night hosted by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper and CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. The town hall will air on CNN, CNN International and CNN en Español at 8 p.m. ET.