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Lesson Plans

Ask Juliette Kayyem: What will it take for communities to feel safe reopening schools?

August 5, 2020

Full Lesson




Directions: These segments are part of a larger interview on reopening schools conducted with Juliette Kayyem, a homeland security planner. Kayyem takes questions from PBS NewsHour EXTRA’s users, including teachers, students and parents. To watch the full interview conducted by NewsHour EXTRA intern Carolyn McCusker, click here

Watch the videos that appear throughout the lesson and answer the discussion questions that follow. You may want to start with the opening video above and this essential question: What measures need to be taken to persuade parents, teachers and communities that school openings are safe and good for the community?

Summary: At the end of July, weeks before schools were set to open across the country, NewsHour EXTRA spoke with Juliette Kayyem, a former assistant secretary for homeland security under President Obama and faculty chair of the homeland security program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. In her Atlantic article Reopening Schools Was Just an Afterthought,” Kayyem argued that open schools were critical infrastructure necessary for fully functioning society. At the same time, Kayyem emphasizes that communities must feel safe and confident in order for reopening to work. 

  • In these responses, Kayyem emphasizes thinking about this crisis as a long-term planning challenge, not a short-term problem.
  • She suggests parents and teachers plan for maximum flexibility, search for creative community-driven solutions and tailor responses to local facts on the ground.
  • Kayyem acknowledges that some school communities will be in a better position to reopen than others, and believes clear communication between school districts and parents and teachers is vital.

Video clip #1: How nimble do you think schools can reasonably be if they must switch between remote learning and in class learning during the year? Michael Rennick, Lilburn, GA. Parent.

Question: Who do you think are the most important decision-makers when it comes to keeping schools open? Should the decision be left to state authorities or be made on a local level. If local, how should the decision work — who should get a say?

Video clip #2: What is a good metric to use for my state or city to decide if school is a safe environment for my daughter and her peers? Do you think there are clear signs or numerical thresholds that make returning to school safe or not safe for a community? — Jennifer Collins, Raleigh, North Carolina, parent

Question: What signs of care and safety are important to you when it comes to returning to a shared space like a school?

Video clip #3: What is your advice to school leaders for communicating with their stakeholders and communities? When and how should they release clear plans despite there being knowns and (considerable) unknowns? — Talley Clyde, North Attleboro, Mass., teacher and parent

Question: Do you know the terms of your own school district’s reopening plans? Are those terms currently being followed in your school? What could be done to better meet safe reopening guidelines?

Video clip #4: How will school systems, state governments and the federal government deal with the reduction of teachers in classrooms? — Laura Dinerman, Laytonsville, Maryland, teacher

Question: How can students and teachers in the same classroom support each other to make learning as safe, healthy and effective as possible?


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