Lately one of the listservs I follow has blown up with a conversation about taking the temperatures of students and staff during a COVID-19 outbreak. The conversation has ranged from the technological (What gadgets to use?) to the medical (When? What about asymptomatic folks?) to the legal (Liability? Prudent practice?) to the financial and HR-related ($27,000 for one unit? Who does the scanning? What will they wear?). But I’m neither an engineer, a doctor, a lawyer, nor a businessperson, so I’ve stayed out of it.
But there is another kind of temperature-taking that needs to be done regularly and even more often and thoroughly in a time of crisis. A fevered brow may be a sign of physical illness, but let’s not forget for one second that the differential experiences of our students and their families (and of our staff members and their families) can be sources of enormous stress that impact every aspect of their lives, even in “normal circumstances.” As schools prepare for 2020–21 to be possibly even more strange and potentially stressful than this spring has been, it is incumbent on every school’s administration to make an intentional scan of these experiences, perhaps broken down by demographics and then scrutinized, case by case.
Let’s start with some categories into which members of your school community likely fall:
Now is a good time to review what is known or may be surmised based on evidence regarding the experience of members of these “groups” (I like to think of them as demographic slices) during the current crisis and then to consider how best to plan for and provide appropriate supports if ’20–21 were to bring either more of the same—or to be even more unsettled.
You may not have either considered or conducted a survey that addresses the special situations of each group, but as a school you have anecdotal evidence that is worth gathering for review. And none of us live in a vacuum, so try to empathetically project what you may have read or heard in reliable news media or what you know from educational writing into the lives and situations of those in your own community. (This is an excellent habit to cultivate in yourself and collectively in your leadership team, by the way.)
You might even set up a protocol for this discussion:
No, this protocol is not simple nor elegant, but our work is to support all of our community members as best we can, and we must do this—now more than ever—intentionally and with all the active empathy we can muster.
We accept that time is the most valuable commodity in schools and it is short supply, but right now time is of the essence in preparing for 2020–21. Along with pondering the acquisition of thermometric scanners and the creation of new waiver forms, schools must take the time to imagine how best to care for every member of their communities and then how to put in place the best ideas for making this care a standard practice, whether online, hybrid, or comfortably settled into desks and chairs on campus.
If you missed our recent Academic Leaders Webinar with Gene Batiste, chief diversity office at St. John School in Houston TX & chief catalyst with Gene Batiste Consulting, on fostering diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in the online space - check that out here.
Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)