Right now, we’re still planning - here’s what we know so far
Now that Nashville Metro government has shared their plan for how the local economy reopens, we know that our students and community want more insight into the plan for reopening NSS. Here’s what we know as of today.
We’ve all spent the last six weeks or so reacting and responding and trying to stay safe and healthy while we learn more about the coronavirus. It’s only natural to want to start to know more about when and how we’re going to return to work and to school. However, there are still a lot of unknowns in terms of timelines and in terms of how to keep everyone safe that we must deal with in creating a plan that works for everyone.
One thing we do know for certain - what we return to will not be the same as the normal we left back at the end of February. And our return will not be the same instant process we experienced when we went remote. When we went remote, the only imperative was that we move fast. Coming back, it is imperative that we be thoughtful and pay attention to details and to data. We must be governed by the pace at which people recover their sense of safety in being together in groups. We have to plan with both our head and our heart in order to meet the needs of our students, our associates, and our community.
The city’s plan helps us predict some aspects of the timeline for returning to NSS. But in reading the city’s plan, remember that what the city permits is only one aspect of our decision-making process. We must consider everyone’s physical safety but also everyone’s mental safety or mental readiness. We must also have the time to determine, based on the best information we can find, what changes in our classroom and office environment are required for safety and to accommodate any changes in our instructional delivery, student density, etc.
As we understand the Mayor’s plan, the earliest that NSS can have full classes of students back in the building is the start of Phase 3. Based on the plan, and assuming that from today on we see steady declines in new cases and an acceptable transmission number, that suggests that the second half of June is the earliest we’d be allowed to have any class meet in-person at NSS. I stress - that’s the earliest under the Mayor’s guidelines. Any uptick in new coronavirus cases will set back this timeline by at least another 14 days. But, we also need to determine whether our instructors and our students feel that it’s safe for them to return to an in-person classroom before we can get everyone back together. That might lead to a longer delay.
Based on the city’s plan, our class calendar, and the other issues we’re still researching, I feel very confident telling our current students that they will continue in online classes through at least Friday, June 26.
With any resurgence of new cases, or if sufficient numbers of students and staff are reluctant or unable to come back together, we could see online classes last well past the first of July. Surveying students and staff to measure their attitudes about returning to in-person is something we plan to start doing on a regular basis in May and that information will deeply inform our final plans.
It’s still impossible to be definitive in a situation where there is new information almost every day that impacts our planning. We’re proceeding ahead doing a lot of research and evaluating multiple scenarios. At this point we’ve got a lot more open questions than answers, but here are some of the things we’re researching.
One very important issue that we’re researching is the question of whether all students come back in-person all at once, or whether there is a possibility that we’ll need to find a way to accommodate some students staying remote even after some of their classmates are both able and willing to return to in-person classes.
- Some students may have much higher personal risk profiles.
- Some students may be caregivers for or live with elderly family members who have much higher risk profiles.
- Some students may have immediate family members who are front-line health professionals and are frequently exposed to the virus and can’t safely mix with other people.
- And some students may get exposed to the virus in other ways, forcing them to quarantine for 14 days before they can be in public.
- And the same set of questions applies to the instructors that are working with the students.
In this environment, is it safer for all involved to stay remote? Is it possible to give a mixed class of in-person and remote students a consistently effective learning experience? Or would it be better to simply keep all students in an online/remote classroom for the time being? Or, do we find a way to split cohorts into an in-person section and a remote section and proceed on that basis?
We’re also doing research on an entire cluster of questions involving the creation of a safe in-person environment for our students and staff. Some of the considerations we’re evaluating and options we’re considering include:
- Regular sanitizing and deep cleaning of the facility, furniture, surfaces, etc.
- Guidelines for use of and availability of masks, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, 55 gallon drums of soap for hand washing (ok, maybe not this one), etc.
- Availability of thermal scanners and required checking of everyone using the facility every day
- Possible changes to door hardware, light switches, receptacles, etc. to reduce the need to touch surfaces
- Social distancing guidelines for students and staff
- Regular education and reinforcement on hygiene/sanitization “best practices”
- Providing access to testing for coronavirus
- Restrictions on visitor access to the space even after classes resume
We’re also going to evaluate whether there is a need or an opportunity to permanently offer a remote-learning option for those who can’t access in-person classes. No one believes more in the power of in-person connection than we do. However, we’re seeing that there are ways to very effectively create powerful learning in an online/remote environment. It might be hybrid, it might be all online, but the new normal at NSS may include more options than just in-person.
This is only the first stage in what will likely be a many months, multi-stage return to whatever the stable “new normal” looks like. This is all going to take time. It’s going to take time to run real clinical trials on some of the promising treatments or mitigation strategies for the coronavirus. It’s going to take time to develop and run the clinical trials on a more permanent fix in the form of a new vaccine. In the meantime, we’ll be guided by not only what we’re learning and experiencing but also what we can learn by watching how other organizations adapt and reopen, by what the healthcare community is learning and sharing about this virus, by the CDC and other government guidelines and regulations. One thing we will do is remain transparent about our thinking and our plans.