Classrooms in Crisis: No One Expects High Explosives
A couple of weeks ago (yes, time has become somewhat relative) I spoke with a friend of mine in Australia as part of a group chat. She shared that she had to plan the emergency management plan for her school. She was responsible for ensuring that the plan had responses to all the normal crises a school might come across in the normal course of events. Those that were of the highest likelihood and those of the lowest. She said she felt good about it. Then the pandemic hit. I loved her response, “I planned for everything, except a pandemic. Who knew?”
In many ways, there are no good plans for what we are facing. There is no play book for a school dealing with a long — term pandemic situation. No one in recent history has a good plan for what happens when school is shut down for months on end, but schools are required to operate and function. So, any school that has a quasi-functional plan that is something more than just throwing ones hand up in the air and saying, “I give up!” is doing alright.
That is how I felt walking back into school today for training. We have not done amazing, and we have not been horrible. We have kind of been middle of the road as a school, functioning and teaching, but not excelling across the board. We have teachers who have been doing amazing things in the school and should be recognized for their hard work. Every teacher has been teaching and keeping academics moving forward. At this point of the year, after four months out, we are doing very well.
So, today, we went through our training. In some ways, it is absurd as I thought it would be and I disagree with some of it. Before we enter the door of the school, we will have had our temperature taken 4 times. We will sit in the cafeteria all facing one direction and at least two seats apart. We will either wash our hands or sanitize them at least every class, if not more frequently. I will point out that, while I may not agree with everything, I am going to follow the guidelines until things change.
So, today, I was planning for my classes tomorrow and in the coming days. My strategy was solid. We are going to go outside as much as possible to limit the spread of viruses and limit contact with students. Outdoors is the safest place for my students to be. We will be playing low organized games and low structured games focusing on communication and teamwork. We are going to build community. My partner teacher at the elementary level and I agree that this is a solid plan for our students as does the administration. We need to build community again.
Then I get this message on WeChat from the facilities director for our school. A very simple message about halfway through the day.
“The school construction site next door will be detonating demolition charges tomorrow from 9:30 to 12:00.”
I would really like to say that this was the first time I had heard this in my career, but it is not. It is at least the third if not fourth. All from the same construction site that is removing bedrock from the site to complete the new school going in.
I should pause. Yes, you read that right. The construction site on the other side of the wall from my school is going to detonate charges to break apart bedrock to finish construction. These explosions will throw rocks onto the playground in our school. These explosions will shake the foundation of my school. This eliminates the plan for going outside tomorrow.
Now, being a problem solver or, entrepreneurial thinker as one friend points out, I start asking questions. When will they be detonating charges? Maybe I can work my class around them if I time my classes right. Frankly, that was as far as I got. I asked our facilities manager that question and she stopped me cold.
“Everett, they are going to detonate 14 charges between 9:30 and 12:00 tomorrow.”
I like to think I plan for most everything. But who plans a normal school response plan and includes “close proximity detonation of demolition charges that throw rocks onto a playground”? I mean, I thought the pandemic was bad enough. Then planning for school re-entry is tough. But demolition? Come on! Next will be either Godzilla or the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
So, tomorrow, we will see two grade levels of students. They will be running a gauntlet of temperature checks, drills, practices, and discussions about how to manage their health if they become ill during school. They will be walking into school for the first time since January. Then, their school day is impacted by demolition charges going off on the day of their return.
To paraphrase a line from the movie Con Air, “In any other year, this might seem strange.”
I know that tomorrow will be a good day. We are starting the healing process for our students and school community. We are moving forward even with high explosives in close proximity to our school. No, those are not on our school crisis plan. We may need to add it in there though.
I will continue to update you on the return to school with my students. They are great kids and the school year will move forward through the end of June. I hope that not every day is exciting as tomorrow will be. I certainly hope that your return to school is far less eventful than I imagine ours to be.
I would encourage you to think about your first days back and plan for the return by the students. This is an important time for them and for the school. We have all had a significant break and we all need to come together to support each other. If you are not having these discussions, start them. And be creative in your thinking about solutions. Now is the time to think way outside the box as you plan the return. Everything is up for reconsideration. Everything you have ever done in education can be thrown away and you can start brand new. Or, you can keep the important items and make significant changes. But, plan for the unexpected. Hopefully you do not have to plan for high explosives.
I do hope that the unexpected is not quite the same as mine. However, I can say my return to school will start with a bang…