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Lesson Plans

Who decides whether or not schools should reopen?

August 7, 2020

Full Lesson



Directions: Read the summary, watch the video and answer the discussion questions. To read the transcript, click here

Summary: With some school districts across the country already welcoming students and others with just weeks left to prepare, U.S. schools are still struggling with questions about how to open for the new academic year. In some cases, districts have reversed course on reopening plans based on lingering or growing coronavirus rates. Caught in the middle are teachers, who have little time to prepare lesson plans based on new remote guidelines or uncertainty about the health and safety of their classrooms.

  • Teachers have expressed a range of fears, from concern for their own health and health of family to concern for their students’ educational progress, engagement, accountability, safety and equal access to learning resources. Many have also expressed confusion and uncertainty over ever-changing guidelines and safety planning.
  • Many school districts are changing plans with little planning time before school begins. For instance, Indianapolis switched to all-remote learning at least until October, even as schools in parts of Indiana began opening up to in-person learning.
  • The superintendent of Indianapolis public schools, Aleesia Johnson, cited an increase in rate of infection in surrounding communities for the move.

Discussion questions:

  1. Essential question: What considerations are going into decisions about whether or not to reopen schools? 
  2. Use this NPR feature to examine the latest in state reopening plans, which includes plans broken down by region. Compare your own school district’s reopening plans to state and regional plans. Why do you think states and regions have such different guidelines for returning to school?
  3. Do you think your school or region should adopt plans you’ve found in other states? Why or why not?
  4. What opinions do you most trust when it comes to decisions about reopening — parents, teachers, governors, health officials or national political figures?
  5. Media literacy: In this segment, the interviews focus on the perspective of teachers and school leaders. Who else do you think should be interviewed to get a fuller picture of concerns around reopening?

If there is time: Watch this video that highlights the challenges one state is facing in its decision to reopen schools.

Extension activity: At the end of the segment that leads this lesson plan, William Brangham asks Indianapolis superintendent Aleesia Johnson what it will take for her to “feel confident” having in-person learning in Minneapolis public schools. Ask your students, what conditions need to be in place for you to feel confident with in-person learning?

  1. First, listen to Johnson’s answer and have students list her conditions for confidence in returning.
  2. Next, have students list their own additional signs of safety that they look for in feeling confident that in-person learning is safe.
  3. Have students watch these EXTRA interview clips with former assistant secretary of Homeland Security Juliette Kayyem about confidence benchmarks and in-person learning. What can students add to their list from Kayyem’s observations?
  4. Have students reflect on their own school’s reopening plans. Based on the list they’ve made, what could be changed to make them more confident in in-person learning?


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