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How Are We Going to Reopen Schools?

How Are We Going to Reopen Schools?

Date of the Event: July 23, 2020 | Steven Hicks, Pam Smith, Dr. Seth Shaffer, and Mariela Puentes
Carefree kids with backpacks holding hands outside Show Notes:

In this webinar we were joined by Steven Hicks, Assistant State Superintendent for the Maryland State Department of Education Division of Early Childhood Development and Pam Smith, Acting Executive Deputy Secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Our guests discussed their plans for the physical safety and well-being of students, teachers, staff, and families. They gave listeners insight into their considerations to ensure an equitable education for all students. This webinar also featured the Question Corner with child psychologist, Dr. Seth Shaffer and education expert, Mariela Puentes, that answered questions regarding uncertainty in the midst of the evolving pandemic.

The Family Table 7-23-20

Nikevia Thomas: Good afternoon everyone, and welcome to the Family Table. I am Nikevia Thomas and I am a program director at MAEC. Today we are going to talk about how are we going to reopen schools? And with us, we have Steven Hicks and Pam Smith. Steven Hicks is an associate state superintendent for the Maryland State Department of Education, division of early childhood development. And Pam Smith is an acting executive deputy...

The Family Table 7-23-20

Nikevia Thomas: Good afternoon everyone, and welcome to the Family Table. I am Nikevia Thomas and I am a program director at MAEC. Today we are going to talk about how are we going to reopen schools? And with us, we have Steven Hicks and Pam Smith. Steven Hicks is an associate state superintendent for the Maryland State Department of Education, division of early childhood development. And Pam Smith is an acting executive deputy secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

[00:00:54] And families across the country will benefit from hearing about how these two states are approaching the reopening of our schools. Our guests will discuss plans for physical safety and the wellbeing of teachers, students, staff and family. They will give listeners insight into their considerations to ensure an equitable education for all students.

[00:01:23] And now I turn it over to my colleague Mariela.

[00:01:28] Mariela Puentes: Hi welcome everyone. I’m Mariela Puentes. We’re glad that you joined us for today’s webinar. The Family Table is a collaboration between CAFE, the Collaborative Action for Family Engagement center, the Maryland State Department of Education and the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

[00:01:46] Today, we’re beginning a three part webinar series focused on school reopenings. We hope that these will help families navigate the current climate and gain information tools and strategies to decide what is best for them and their children. Our goals are that families will learn about what has guided reopening conversations in both states, and that families will familiarize themselves with their state’s specific guidance regarding school reopenings.

[00:02:13]The families will explore ways to advocate for their needs, concerns, and priorities regarding school reopenings and ongoing educational goals. And that they will work to make their voices heard and build coalitions with school teams to ensure a successful school reopening plans for all children.

[00:02:29] And ultimately we hope these conversations will help strengthen relationships of trust and partnership between educators and families.

[00:02:42] Nikevia Thomas: Thank you Mariela. So this is what we’ll be talking about today at the Family Table. We’ll have a welcome and introduction. We will have an early childhood and recovery in Maryland with Steven Hicks. Then we will speak with Pamela Smith to go over the pre K through 12 school reopening considerations in Pennsylvania.

[00:03:05] And then we will have our question corner with child psychologist, Dr. Seth Shaffer and Mariela Puentes. And then we will wrap up with surveys and upcoming webinars.

[00:03:21] So we want to hear from you. So here are some logistics for the day. We all use a Q and S box for questions and answers. And, if you can use that please do. We will also be monitoring the chat feature on zoom. And if you are tuning in from Facebook, no worries there, we will be monitoring the comment section. So if you have a question or comment, please feel free to tell us what you think there. And we will get you heard.

[00:03:59] Mariela Puentes: Before we get started I wanted to share a bit with you about, CAFE and MAEC. Next slide, please Nikevia.

[00:04:11]So MAEC, we’re an educational nonprofit in Bethesda, Maryland. Founded in 1991, dedicated to increasing access to high quality education for culturally, linguistically, and economically diverse learners. Our vision is a day when all students have equitable opportunities to learn and achieve at high levels. And MAEC is mission is to promote excellence and equity in education to achieve social justice.

[00:04:41] A bit about CAFE. CAFE or the Collaborative Action for Family Engagement center is a project of MAEC. We apply an equity lens to family engagement by building relationships, among schools, parents, and community organizations we improve the development and academic achievement all students. We are the state wide family engagement center for Maryland and Pennsylvania, and are funded through a federal Department of Education grant for statewide family engagement centers. And today we are pleased to be joined by two of our state partners.

[00:05:22] Nikevia Thomas: Before we get started. We want to hear from all of you and know where you all are coming in from. Will you please in the chat box, if you can tell us where you’re coming from?

[00:05:41] Long beach, California, Talbert County. Wow, Maryland is here, New York, Indiana, and someone from San Jose, Baltimore, El Paso. Wow. We have people from all over the country. Illinois, Kansas. This is wonderful, Alabama. Wow. Thank you everyone.

[00:06:14] So I would like to introduce to you Steven Hicks. Steven Hicks serves as again, he serves as the assistant state superintendent for the division of early childhood development at the Maryland State Department of Education. It is my honor to introduce Steven.

[00:06:36] Steven Hicks: Thanks very much Nikevia and thank you so much Mariela for coordinating this. And I want to thank MAEC for their amazing work in helping our two States with family engagement. Next slide.

[00:06:52] I want to share a little bit, briefly, about what we have been doing in Maryland. But also what we are thinking about doing, and I’d love to get input from families on that about what you think we should be doing in our States. And, of course, Maryland and Pennsylvania are very different. We have different leaders in our States, but we’re really wrestling with the same issues, helping children and families and making sure that as schools reopen either in person or virtually that we can provide the support that families need. Next slide.

[00:07:33] So just, very briefly, when we first experienced the pandemic in the country and particularly in Maryland, the school systems were all closed, in the beginning. And then two weeks after the schools closed the superintendent of schools where childcare resides at the Maryland State Department of Education also closed all childcare programs on a Friday. And then invited them to reopen on Monday, following the new enhanced health and safety guidance.

[00:08:06] And at that point we had about 29% of our childcare programs opening. A lot of parents were still fearful of sending their kids to childcare. So we didn’t have a lot of parents attending right away, but we expect that to be different in the Fall when there will be a great need for childcare. More parents are going back to work and we’ll really need the kind of support that the State and the local communities can offer. Next slide.

[00:08:35] Like many States, we have very strict health and safety guidance that was informed by the CDC. So today and at the beginning of the pandemic, all childcare programs must take temperature checks for the students, they have to have ongoing cleaning and sanitizing, social distancing. And then local health departments and licensing specialists are needing to be contacted if a COVID-19 case occurs or even if there’s a suspected case.

[00:09:10] And we’ve just now refined and developed our decision tree on that. So that there needs to be two possible symptoms in order to make those decisions. As you can imagine, we’re getting new information each day so our health and safety guidance needs to keep up with that. And so we make sure that we let providers and parents know that they should frequently visit our website so they can see the latest guidance and FAQ. Next slide.

[00:09:42]Just to give you a little bit of timeline of what happened in Maryland. In Maryland, we have very strict licensing regulations. So, even if you are caring for a child that is, just one child, it’s unrelated to you, you do need to get a license. You can get a family childcare license to care for up to eight children in your home. A large family childcare license to care for 12 children, or you can operate a center. But you must be licensed to take care of other people’s children. And then so March 30th, when we approve programs to reopen after closing on that Friday before we had, just about 2,200 programs open. So a sharp decline in the number of programs we regularly have available although of course, just like most States, there’s still not enough childcare even without a pandemic happening.

[00:10:37]Today though, or last week at last count we had returned to about 70% of our programs opening. But they’re still at low capacity. We still have limits of 15 children or people maximum per room. So that’s a one to 14 ratio for three and four year olds or school aged kids. And for younger kids, of course the ratios are a lot smaller. This is a lot different than our limit of 20 for pre-K or 30 for school aged kids. And, but it is an increase from the 10 per room that we have limits for at the beginning of the pandemic.

[00:11:16] You also see on the third row, we talk about the EPSA at the sites. The EPSA sites were these alternative sites, anticipating that we might not have enough childcare, which in fact did occur at the beginning of the pandemic. We authorized alternative sites to work from a limited licensing approval in order to operate. And these were things like YMCAs, the Boys and Girls Clubs, rec centers, et cetera. But in order to try to meet the demand that we anticipated from parents, especially essential persons that needed to work. Next slide.

[00:12:00]This just gives you an overview, in Maryland we have 24 counties, 24 local school systems. And of these 24, you can see from 0% to 100% where they are right now, as far as fully opening all of their programs. So there are few smaller jurisdictions that have fully, or almost nearly fully opened all of their childcare programs, family, and center based. But there are many that are still well below or at 50% of opening. So parents are still struggling I know to find that childcare center they used to be participating in or any childcare center they can use as they begin to go back to work. Next slide.

[00:12:48] So we have a lot of great lessons learned during these first four months of the pandemic. We were hoping that we would be facing a situation the Fall where we would be transitioning back to stage three of the governor’s plan. Getting back to normal, operating childcare centers at full capacity for which they are licensed, opening schools right on time. Clearly, that’s not going to happen. Out of the 24 school systems in Maryland, nine have already identified for us that they are not going to be open for in-person instruction. And some of them are gonna be completely virtual. Some of them are going to be hybrid and that puts a tremendous strain on our childcare system.

[00:13:37] As we know, not all parents are able to keep their child in their home. Of course, we do want to keep sending the message that that’s the safest place for your child during this pandemic. But we do recognize that many parents don’t have that ability to work at home, especially parents or guardians that are  that have low income jobs where both parents have to work, if there are two parents or if there’s a single parent. So we do need to find solutions working in our local communities and working with the State.

[00:14:08] So we’re looking right now at lots of different alternatives. How can we use the closed school facilities, for example? How can we maybe extend these alternative sites? What kind of mechanism can we put in place to streamline a licensing for family childcare programs? We’ve actually doubled the grants that we typically offer to $1,000 for family childcare programs to help pay for their expenses as they get up and operate. Our licensing is at no cost, but there are other expenses with fire and other agencies that they may have to incur costs. And we’re trying to get as many programs up and running as possible to meet that demand.

[00:14:54] And then we’re also working with our local school systems to coordinate the planning, to meet families childcare needs. I’ve been on a couple of these town hall calls, where we have the school system, we have our licensing office and we have the childcare community in that jurisdiction all together, talking about what’s the demand for childcare going to be in the Fall. What is the supply of childcare and how can we make those two converge so that we can meet all families’ needs.

[00:15:26] Thanks so much. And, I think in a bit we’ll have some time for questions and I’d love to be able to answer any questions you have at that time.

[00:15:44] Nikevia Thomas: Thank you, Steven for sharing. Now that we’ve heard from what Maryland is doing, now let’s hear about what’s going on in Pennsylvania. So I would like to introduce Pam Smith, who as I said earlier, as serving as acting executive deputy secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, and she will be discussing pre K through 12 school reopening considerations for the State.

[00:16:13] Pam Smith: Great, thank you so much. I’m so happy to be here today, to participate and really appreciate the support that the Mid-Atlantic Equity Center has been providing to Pennsylvania and Maryland. And I’m just looking forward to sharing a little bit about what we’ve been doing in Pennsylvania to support school reopening. Next slide please.

[00:16:34] So first and foremost for us, you know, we’ve focused from day one, which we call March 13th, that’s when our governor made the announcement that schools were going to close in Pennsylvania across the Commonwealth. And for us a little bit different than Maryland, where Steven was talking about Maryland having 24 counties and 24 school districts. We have 500 school districts in Pennsylvania.

[00:16:57] It’s a local control State, meaning that each school district is controlled by a local school board. And they are in charge of doing policies and procedures for that school district. So for us at the State, we’re limited in the amount of sort of edicts that we can put out to folks across the Commonwealth. And so a lot of our work is around supporting districts, removing barriers, providing guidance, and supporting them with the things that they need broad scale with systems. So our focus was on and still remains, ensuring that the health and safety of students, and the staff and families. So basically our school communities is at the center of what we were doing.

[00:17:38] And for us, in the beginning, a lot of that focused on ensuring the kids had access to food and nutrition that they needed, had access to the things that they needed for remote learning. There’s a lot of connectivity issues in Pennsylvania, we’re a big State. The broadband issues are a challenge, access to technology is a challenge. And really what COVID-19 has done is exposed a lot of the inequities that we knew existed, but have now been elevated. So our goal as a State agency has been focusing on those inequities and ensuring that we can try to allow students and families to have access to the things that they need.

[00:18:15] Additionally, one of the unique parts of being in the Department of Education that I see is one of the benefits we have is this unique partnership that we have with the Department of Health. I know that there are many States that that’s not the relationship that exists. And fortunately, we had worked already on a number of collaborative projects, so when COVID-19 hit, we were able to essentially just leverage our relationship with the Department of Health and incorporate them into the development of guidance that we were providing for school districts across the Commonwealth.

[00:18:44] And then additionally, as we were developing that guidance, we wanted to be sure that that was something that was developed not in a vacuum. So we know that in education, we are not public health experts, and we need to rely on the experts that do operate in that  environment all the time. And so we brought on some additional third party partners to commission research for us on the best practices in school health. The modeling that we knew was available for COVID-19 and we were able to get them to provide some research and guidance documents for school leaders across the Commonwealth to use as they were considering their development of their reopening plans. And I’ll talk a little bit about that in just a minute.

[00:19:28] And the last piece I just want to emphasize is that we’re empowering localized decision-making. So in the beginning where the governor was, you know, able to make a decision with his secretary of health to close down all schools based on the available information at the time. We have now, because there are so many school districts being 500, we have a variety of different situations across the Commonwealth, where you may have one County that has little to no cases of COVID-19 and then you may have other counties where there is a large number of cases. And so the needs in the districts in those different counties are very different. And if we were to make a sweeping decision to close all schools, and to keep them closed and not allow them to make localized decisions then we would probably create a scenario where we have schools that are not allowing kids to come into buildings and do things, when they don’t have cases that some of the other counties have. Next slide, please.

[00:20:31] So as I was mentioning the commissioned research that we did, we actually partnered with an entity, the REL, to do some research and develop models for school leaders to look at that would help them make decisions around what would be the best choice for them in their district. So you heard Steven talking about the variety of models, whether it was all in person, a hybrid version which accounts for some in-person and some online or remote, or all remote. And so what we did was we had the researchers pull all the data from across the world, not just in this country, to develop this report to guide leaders. And it doesn’t tell them what to do, but it gives them the scenarios that they need to make those decisions.

[00:21:12] This was the first of its kind. And it was done specifically for Pennsylvania, but there are elements in that can be used in other states across the country, and that report is available, both on our website, at and also with Mathematica, they were, one of the research partners that connected with us on that. So as part of the development of that, we also engaged a number of stakeholders and focus groups around that very same topic. So there were families that participated, we had medical experts, we had school leaders and teachers and other stakeholders who informed the process and helped us to think about what some of the challenges would be, both financially, just in terms of a realistic expectations around, you know, whether a parent would feel confident sending their child to school. Or whether, you know, putting only, you know, 10 kids on a bus at one time would be something that could actually happen. I mean, those are all things that we had to take in to consideration based on the CDC guidance and other guidance that has currently been released to support best practices.

[00:22:18] In addition we developed a template for our school leaders to be able to then start to enter this information into, to develop their plan for what they would do. Next slide, please. So again at the state level, you know, our focus has been giving resources, providing technical assistance, doing support. And one of the tools that we created was a template for school districts to be able to walk themselves and their communities through a process to develop a plan for reopening. So I’ve put a snapshot here on this slide of one of the sections. And this is also available on our website if you want to take a look at it or download it and see it to be able to modify.

[00:22:59] But essentially there are sections in the document around health and safety, social distancing, professional development. Other considerations for health and safety for staff and students and visitors to the building. And what it does is it asks key questions of the leaders and their team, to start to think about what are the things that they need to incorporate into their localized plan. And you’ll see here on the slide, the key questions are listed there at the top, and then they can just populate the answers into the template.

[00:23:30] Now, what we have said, in Pennsylvania is that each school district or school entity is required to complete this health and safety template and to submit to their local school board, their plan for reopening. In it they need to indicate what their plan is in terms of whether they’ll be hybrid or virtual or a combination of, or all in person or all online. And that has to be based on the color coded level that we are in the state. So in Pennsylvania, we’re on a red, yellow, green coding for where we are. The governor established that with the secretary of health. And so the school district would need to list what’s your plan for when you’re in green? What’s your plan for when you’re in yellow? And red? Et cetera. They submit that to their school board, it’s approved. And then it gets sent to us to review so that we can track and be able to see what districts across the Commonwealth are too choosing to do.

[00:24:26] So part of this then helps us to be able to know, you know, what issues are existing across the Commonwealth in terms of access and equity. We want districts to be thinking about that. So if you’re making a decision to do, you know, virtual, do all of your students have access to the technology they need? Do they have access to the connectivity pieces that they need? You know, is there someone that’s going to be in the home that can support that? So there’s a lot of things that we need to take into consideration when we’re supporting the districts.

[00:24:55] Additionally, one of the elements that was really important to us as part of the development of this was to ensure that districts weren’t making these decisions in a vacuum. And that becomes very easy, right, when you get a team of folks together and they think they know what’s best and they’re working through it. But then don’t ask for input from the folks that are either impacted by it most, or the closest to what the challenge is. So as part of this template, one of the sections, requires the school district to report how they engaged parents, staff, and other stakeholders in the decision making process.

[00:25:31] Additionally, it takes into account local resources. And that includes human resources, money, time, et cetera. One of the other unique challenges in Pennsylvania is that we have one overarching Department of Health at the state level, but then across the 67 counties in the Commonwealth, there’s actually only seven local Departments of Health. So the other remaining counties don’t have a local Department of Health to lean on when they’re trying to make health decisions in their community. So what that’s done is it’s put a little bit of additional pressure on the state system, both in education and health, and it does slow things down. So part of what we’ve also asked them to develop at the local level is how they’re pulling in resources for support in that public health space. Next slide please.

[00:26:25] So one of the other roles that we’ve played, is providing guidance and resources and sort of a segue from what I was talking about with the health and safety plans, I’ve shown here on the right side of the slide, what this looks like on our website. So not only have we asked the school districts to develop these plans, and then to get them approved and to submit, but we also want to make sure that that information is available, to the school community and families that they serve.

[00:26:54] So you will most likely find those plans on the local school district websites, but we also have created a landing page where folks can go and click on the County that they live in. And then when they click on that County, it’ll show a list of the school districts that have submitted their plans, and then they can click on the plan for their school district. And then what they see is what I’ve put down on the right side, which is very small. But a snapshot that shows all of the documents that go with the plan and the template itself and what they have decided to do for their community. So it’s an easy place for folks to access what’s happening.

[00:27:30] One of the other reasons that this is it helpful for folks that we’ve heard from on the field, both from parents and staff, is that we have a lot of teachers and providers that may work in one community, one County, live in a different County. And so there may be some crossover and they want to get information about, you know, what’s going to be happening, in this community at a different level, you know, on red versus yellow. And so it allows folks to be able to access that information easily.

[00:27:58] So that’s an example of one of the resources we provide both for educators and for families. In addition, we also have a number of FAQ for school communities. And on our website, you can click on the page that shows up that looks like what I have there with the green background and the backpack.

[00:28:17] And you click on the more info tab. And when that is clicked, it divides it up into K to 12, pre-K to 12 guidance and then higher ed guidance. And you can click on that box and then it shows all of the different topic areas  and the frequently asked questions that we have in those spaces. So everything from something similar to what Steven provided in terms of, you know, which childcare centers are open and what does that mean, to, you know, how do I access the food and nutrition services that my family might need in response to COVID-19? Next slide, please.

[00:28:51] So in closing for me, for Pennsylvania, know it has been very challenging for us, you know, with so many school districts. And our main role, as I said, has been providing technical assistance and creating guidance and support for districts as they elevate their needs and concerns to us. One of the things that’s been very helpful for us is we have regional sections across the Commonwealth. There’s 29 of them. They’re divided up into intermediate units. And so each intermediate unit has a number of schools districts that are part of it, sort of like a hub system. And we have relied on the intermediate units, to facilitate localized discussion with the community members and parents, school leaders to hear what the issues and concerns are. And then to push that information up to us so that we can then help inform policy decisions and the support that we’re providing back to the community. So that’s been very helpful and informative for us. And I just want to share that as the last piece of information.

[00:29:51] So thanks again for allowing me to share a little bit about what we’re doing in PA and look forward to the Q and A session.

[00:29:59] Nikevia Thomas: Thank you, Pam, for all of that information. So now we are going to ask some questions of Pam and Steven. So we had a question from Facebook. We know that we get a lot of information from social media. A lot of times it’s the first time we hear of information. So a parent has heard information about schools, asking for parents to sign waivers to send their children back to school.

[00:30:34] Would either of you speak to that? Do you know if that is a possibility?

[00:30:47] Steven, you’re on mute.

[00:30:49] Steven Hicks: Sorry,  do you mean waivers if they don’t have to attend school?

[00:30:53] Nikevia Thomas: Waivers so that they can go back to school, so like a release form that if in case they get sick or something.

[00:31:01] Steven Hicks: Well each local system in Maryland I can answer is developing, you know, their own plans. Right now, all those that have been really released are talking about at least the first few weeks of being hybrid, or being a virtual. Sorry, that’s what I meant to say, virtual. And some school systems have already said they won’t even open until February. So I don’t know that they’ve addressed the specific issue right now, as far as if they are in person, but typically what happens, that there would be a waiver to be signed. But typically I think school systems are, that might use a hybrid and might give parents a choice of being either virtual or in person, those parents are just going to have to make those decisions themselves. But I haven’t heard of any of our local school systems requiring any kind of form to release the school system of any liability.

[00:32:01] Pam Smith: And we have heard that there are some school systems, some districts that are considering that. It’s not something that we’re requiring or that we’ve addressed in our guidance from the state level. But are hearing that from the local level and some of the plans.

[00:32:15] Nikevia Thomas: Okay. So a follow-up question to that is related to positive cases of Covid in children.

[00:32:23] So do you all have the data on the number of children in childcare in Maryland and in Pennsylvania who have tested positive?

[00:32:34] Steven Hicks: So in Maryland, it’s a very small number. We aren’t, like systematically reporting it right now. But what happens is if there’s a suspected Covid case or an actual Covid case, the provider is to contact their licensing specialists and their local health department and then work together to address the very specific situation. Because all of them, as you can imagine are going to be different. And then if the child is tested or the adult is tested, then we collect that information.

[00:33:09] I would say out of the, you know, 70% programs, you know, over 5,000 programs, you know, of course we don’t want any cases of the virus. It’s a very relatively small number. I mean, it’s just about, about 120 or so cases of any kind of positive case, but that’s out of over 5,000, childcare programs.

[00:33:35] Nikevia Thomas: Okay. So, another question is. What if my family doesn’t have internet access and, my school goes  virtual, what resources would be available to those families?

[00:33:54] Pam Smith: So I can start out with that one. So what we’ve encouraged school districts as part of that health and safety plan and also there’s another plan it’s called the continuity of education plan that they have to submit, requires that they accommodate and account for student that don’t have access.

[00:34:09] So in the early iterations of this, what that may have looked like could have been a school bus, delivering food with packets also to make sure that kids got access to the work that they needed. In some communities they were setting up hubs and remote parking, you know, like parking lots, where there was WIFI access. If they had the device, then they could connect that way. So there’s been a lot of creative thinking that’s gone into that. And now that school districts have had a little bit more time to think about that planning and access additional resources I would, most of what we’ve seen in the plans that have leveled off a little bit, but we still have a very serious connectivity issue in Pennsylvania, specifically. And a lot of the work that we’re doing and CARES dollars that we’ve requested, which is the federal funding that’s coming through, is going to look at trying to address some of those inequities. So my answer back to the person who asked the question, if you’re from PA, then you should be going back to your local school district to find out what their plan is to ensure that your child has access to the materials that they need. I can’t speak for outside of PA, but that’s what I would say here.

[00:35:16] Steven Hicks: Maryland, I know the governor announced yesterday on his press conference, that he was making available a hundred million dollars to local school systems to help with technology and connectivity. So each local school system will work with their local schools and then their classrooms and parents on those issues.

[00:35:34] I know anecdotally that there’s, in our pre-K expansion grant program, which in Maryland is a mixed delivery system, we have one school system that is working with a community based program and they have the, they pay for the teacher in that community based program. Anticipating the opening school being virtual, they have made sure that that childcare program has iPads for all the students, has a hotspot for the internet, et cetera. So I think, you know, we’re going to see this more and more that schools in their plans really have to think about how they address the needs of their students and their families, while they’re doing this virtual learning.

[00:36:20] I recommend that every school superintendent work with each of their principals and then within those, with those principals, they should work with each of their teachers to really identify every family and student by name. And if they’re doing virtual learning, they need to know where that child is. If that child can be at the home, that’s great because the parent has the ability to work at home or telework, or are there adults that can supervise the virtual learning. That’s really ideal, right. But if that’s possible and for many working families that isn’t possible, then it’s really the responsibility of the school system and those teachers in classrooms and schools to identify where there’s an issue and how they connect those students with an appropriate facility.

[00:37:11] In Maryland we have some school systems that are expanding their before and after school care in their school facilities to make it full day. Some other school systems are using their own school staff to house learning centers at the school. For those parents who were not, able to take care of their or watch their children at home during their virtual learning.

[00:37:36] Nikevia Thomas: Thank you. So, we have a question for you, Steven, where can we find a list of Maryland County school decisions online?

[00:37:48] Steven Hicks: Ah, so I think I was about to put that in the chat.

[00:37:51] Nikevia Thomas: Oh great.

[00:37:52] Steven Hicks: I already did. Let me see, I already paste it in there? Okay. Here it is. I’m going to [inaudible] that. [Inaudible]

[00:38:03] Okay. So there it is. It’s in the chat box. And if they have a draft, they’ve already posted their draft. If they have a final plan, which they don’t yet, because they’re not due to August 14th, that’s where they will also post them. And there’s opportunities when they’ve posted their draft for parents to give input. And I really encourage you to attend these town halls, to email your school super, your local school, superintendents, your principals, et cetera, and make your voice heard. They really do need to hear from families.

[00:38:36] Nikevia Thomas: Yes, I agree. So we have a question specifically for high school age students, do they qualify do families of high school age students qualify for any specific monetary help?

[00:38:54] Pam Smith: Do you know, for what? Specifically, monetary help?

[00:38:58] Nikevia Thomas: Monetary help for getting access to resources that the student needs.

[00:39:03] Pam Smith: I know that, well I can speak to one of the programs that our department of human services supported in Pennsylvania specifically was a PEBT benefit. So if folks were receiving free and reduced, if they were part of the free and reduced lunch count rate or were receiving public assistance benefits, they did get a boost in their benefits to account for some additional resources, for food and nutrition and types of things that are covered by that.

[00:39:30] And if they were part of a catchment system, so a school system, there were a lot of waivers at the USDA level that expanded the number of students that could have access to food and nutrition services. And if they were part of that, then they also received that EBT benefits. So like a snap benefit, on a card that was mailed to them. So specifically in PA that wasn’t age limited, so there could have been high school students that benefited from that. And if the question came from someone in PA, that should still be something that’s available, if they’re part of a district where they participate in the free and reduced lunch program.

[00:40:10] Nikevia Thomas: Great. Thank you. So we have a couple more questions. Are your Departments of Health in either state going to set up the number of infections of Coronavirus to determine opening for in-person instruction or other modality of instruction?

[00:40:36] Steven Hicks: Well with that are they gonna post or say that question again?

[00:40:42] Nikevia Thomas: Are your Departments of Health in either state going to set the number of infections of Coronavirus to determine the opening for in-person instruction?

[00:40:57] Pam Smith: So it sounds like if there’s like a positivity rate or something like that.

[00:41:00] Nikevia Thomas: Right.

[00:41:00] Pam Smith: Say, go ahead, Steven. Sorry.

[00:41:02] Steven Hicks: Well, I was just saying, I think the governor is looking closely at that and really, the Department of Health and the Department of Education will take our guidance from the governor. I don’t know that they’ve set a specific number regarding the opening of schools. I do know that he’s using that as a barometer to move to different stages. So he has three stages in his recovery plan. Stage one, stage two, which we’re in right now, and then eventually, hopefully one day stage three.

[00:41:34] Pam Smith: And so for us, as I’d mentioned in my slides, the decisions are being made locally, you know, in terms of the data that’s available at the local, the more local level. That’s currently the metrics that are being used, which the Department of Health is supporting and providing some of that data.

[00:41:53] Steven Hicks: And, you know, the good thing I think that should be mentioned is that when this occurred in the Spring childcare programs really were at the forefront of addressing this crisis as far as how to safely take care of kids. And I think that’s been good information as we are in the unfortunate predicament of thinking about this still as we open schools. But there’s a lot of great guidance that we worked with the Department of Health to develop. And I know Pennsylvania at the same thing. And you know, it’s really been helpful in thinking about how to move forward compared to when we were just all reacting last Spring.

[00:42:39] And in Maryland the governor does set the parameters, but he gives the state, the local school systems a lot of flexibility, as does the superintendent. So for example, in a couple of our school systems, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, where the infection was higher than statewide and some of the other jurisdictions, they took a much stricter, regulation for not only schools but businesses, et cetera, then the state governor did.

[00:43:12] Nikevia Thomas: Okay, great. Thank you so much both of you. So now we are going to transition over to our question corner.

[00:43:32] Dr Seth Shaffer: Hello, everyone. Good to be with you.

[00:43:44] Nikevia Thomas: So our question corner features child psychologist, doctor Seth Shaffer and education expert, Mariela Puentes, and they’re here to answer your questions regarding the uncertainty in the midst of the evolving pandemic.

[00:44:01] Dr Seth Shaffer: Alright, let’s do this.

[00:44:05] We can even, Nikevia, if it’s okay, we can even pull down the slides. If you’re able to do that.

[00:44:12]Nikevia Thomas:  Can I… Let me…

[00:44:13] Dr Seth Shaffer: You can go to the next one. We’ll leave it on.  Just in the interest of time, we got about 14 minutes here, total. I’m going to jump in, cause I know the question that I think we’re going to start with Mariela. Okay.

[00:44:25] Mariela Puentes: And so I had it pulled up. So it’s a question we had gotten ahead of time, so with all the uncertainty regarding school reopenings how can I prepare and adapt? And Dr. Seth Shaffer, if you want to take the lead on that question, you can go ahead.

[00:44:41] Dr Seth Shaffer: Yeah, happy to. It’s a good question. If I glance down is cause I’m looking at some notes here that I jotted down. Uncertainty regarding school reopenings, how can I prepare and adopt? So I being caregiver, someone who works at an organization, an adult who’s, you know, involved with working with children in some way. I think one thing I wanna mention is, MAEC puts out these great newsletters. And I wrote one of the articles for a recent newsletter that addressed this specific question. So Claire might be able to post the link at least to the website. And it’ll have more extensive information specifically about this question.

[00:45:19] But just a few things here. One is I think the important thing is to take care of yourself and that should be done, you know, COVID no COVID whatever the case may be, and specifically like basic needs. Right? So when I think about basic needs, I think about adequate sleep, I think about it, you know, an adequate diet. I think about regular exercise. The three questions that, you know, golden questions or whatever, that most if not all doctors will ask you when you go for a checkup. Those things are really important. You know there’s a lot of research out there that supports that engaging in regular self-care like that is important. And that can help you psychologically, emotionally prepare for all the uncertainties that are happening right now.

[00:45:59] Number two, in terms of children. Children benefit a lot, even adults, right, I know I do, from some kind of routine. And so when it comes to preparing your child for all these uncertainties and school, whether it’s virtual or a hybrid or whatever the case may be, they need a routine. So, you know, a normal or regular wake up time, going to sleep, you know, bedtime. Even now. And I would start kind of getting them routinize now, if they’re not already. So that can also help. Well, self-care help you be able to be in the right mindset to prepare for yourself, but also then those young people.

[00:46:31] And then when it comes to school, whatever school kind of looks like here, if you have access depending on your kid’s age, right, I mean the younger they are, they might need some kind of visual aids. If they’re going to be doing something virtually, but printing out a schedule of what their class schedule looks like. You know, if it’s going to be, let’s assume it’s kind of virtual, you might want to print that out, just so there’s a nice visual. But the importance of a routine.

[00:46:55] I think familiarizing yourself with the technology. Again, this is going along with like, there’s going to be virtual or maybe a hybrid or something, if technologies involved. And then Steven and Pam gave some great resources for their respective States that you guys can access. So I think familiarizing yourself with it so then you can kind of even role play with your child prior to school starting. Not, you know, the day before, maybe a few days before, if you have access. And just do like a run through with your child, I think would be great.

[00:47:22] One thing also to prepare yourself mentally, emotionally, is it’s going to be a bumpy ride, there’s no doubt about it. Not to mention that you, as a caregiver, as a parent are going to be like juggling you know your own, if you’re working outside the home or outside of your apartment. If you’re working from, you know, in home and having to manage like, you know, what your child is doing and virtually, or the school reopens physically, getting them there. It’s going to be a bumpy road. So I think the more that you can mentally prepare yourself to have this kind of flexible approach, the better.

[00:47:55] And certainly that will trickle down to your child. And that goes, even for teachers, I mean, teachers, this is, this is particularly challenging for that population. So a big shout out to teachers and then those who are attending, who are working for nonprofits that work with families and communities, you guys, I know you’re rolling up your sleeves and there’s, there’s fear and some nervousness, I think, you know, just very much appreciate you guys and what you do.

[00:48:20] And, just know that there are learning opportunities here for being flexible, both you and yourself, but also with the kids that you serve. And kids feed off that flexibility that you might, you know, come out with.

[00:48:33] The last thing, be proactive and Mariela, I think can chime in here about staying connected with the school, accessing local resources, et cetera. Mariela you take the lead on that one.

[00:48:44] Mariela Puentes: Sure. So from an educational perspective, definitely familiarize yourself with any guidance or plans that has been released in your State. Keep in mind that these are likely constantly being updated and changing as we learn more about the virus and cases in your particular district. The best place to look at always is your State’s education website, your State Department’s education website.

[00:49:10]There are also two very good resources. One is from Education Week and another is from John’s Hopkins School of Education that you might want to look at. They compile plans from many States, and includes information on various districts, and categorizes the considerations in those plans, to help you plan for what the school year might look like. But your best point of contact is definitely your child’s school and any connections you have with a team of supporters, right, or educators who are on your corner and ready to help you figure out what’s best for you and your child.

[00:49:46] I would also say that one other thing that’s important is to, with all the uncertainty, right, and trying to adapt is to know your why or your purpose and have something that grounds you. Especially as so many things are changing. So for example, something that could ground you, is your commitment to engaging with families or partnering with schools. That can help ground you, right, and how you think about what the Fall might look like. Also maybe it’s your desire to learn more about how others are situated right now and work to build connections. So it doesn’t feel so lonely to be in uncertainty on your own.

[00:50:22]And I think also just like trying to take the perspective of others, right. For parents, and right now they might be struggling with securing childcare or finding balance between working from home and strategies for making remote learning work in the Fall. And for educators and administrators, right, like they might be thinking about a lot of things like ensuring the safety and social, emotional wellbeing of children, of colleagues, of themselves, of their families. All while planning what the Fall semester might look like. And then considering all the challenges and barriers that families may face and figuring out how to best support families needs and concerns. And then make sure that they’re accessing content.

[00:51:05] Dr Seth Shaffer: Mariela always knocks it out of the park. So a couple of things that really stood out to me from what you said, Mariela, are being proactive, connecting with fellow community members, staying connected with the schools, and things like that. That can be really helpful. I think another thing too would be, which is related what you said, Mariela, have a plan, A, B, C, D. Plans change. But I think the more that you plan yourself for different scenarios to the best of your ability and connect with local resources, including MAEC, depending on where you are, it’ll help reduce your own anxiety.

[00:51:39] And then as things continue to change regularly, you tweak those plans, particularly, for example, like childcare. Right. So that was one other thing just to add, I think we can maybe move on to the next question here. We’ve got a few minutes.

[00:51:55] Mariela, do you want to read that one or should I? Doesn’t matter.

[00:51:59] Mariela Puentes: I can go ahead and read it. So another question we had received is how do you refocus your kids away from constantly thinking about the pandemic?

[00:52:09] Dr Seth Shaffer: Okay, good question. One quick sidebar, those who attend this, know that sometimes this happens with me, I apologize for this. But if your child has been doing either zoom camps or virtual stuff, one other thing that you can help to prepare them, which indirectly helps you as parent or caregiver. I’m hearing a lot, you know, from clients and people I work with about like, just being zoomed out. Give your kids a break. If they’re going to be going virtual when school starts, maybe like a week before school starts try to just have them, depending on childcare situations. But just something to keep in mind.

[00:52:43]Okay. It was the refocus kids question.? Well I have, I have a couple of follow-ups and we might not it’s, okay, I’m just throwing this out there. But does it sound like as is your child that you’re thinking of ruminating, meaning like, or perseverating, like they’re thinking a lot about Coronavirus and perseverating would be like maybe talking about it a lot. It seems more beyond what you might expect. Or it pops up and they share it with you or their questions or thoughts at times you might not expect, like if you’re doing something fun or whatever the case may be. And this leads me to, try to think about what’s the function of this particular behavior with Coronavirus. I mean, I think all of us around the planet have heightened anxiety and stress right now. Right. So part of it is also thinking it’s, you know, to normalize for your child, that what they’re thinking about with the Coronavirus and how they might be feeling, you know, a lot of people are feeling that way. So if your child is talking a lot about Coronavirus, you know, and if they ask you a question, I would encourage you answer your child’s question. And you don’t need to come with an agenda of your own. Cause as an adult, you’re going to be thinking on it on a much broader level and your mind’s going to go. But just answer your child’s specific question. You don’t need to extrapolate and that can help reduce their anxiety and they might be able to refocus on something else.

[00:54:03]But once you have a sense of like, you know, is my child thinking and or talking a lot about the Coronavirus, does it have to do with like some kind of fear or anxiety and you can try to help your child express with a feeling word, preferably you know how they’re feeling. You know, preschool, you might need to feed it to them. Are you feeling worried because the big, the virus out there? Elementary school would be like, are you anxious, like nervous, scared or worried about what school’s going to look like and whether they’re going to get the Coronavirus. Middle and high or good luck. But whether it’s like fear, right. That’s driving that Coronavirus those thoughts.

[00:54:42] Or is it like attention seeking? Which those could be linked. So your child might ask about the Coronavirus or talk about it, maybe incessantly or whatever, but what really is happening of the function that behavior is, I need more attention from you, mom, dad, or whoever’s in the house, mom, mom, dad, dad, whoever it is, grandma, whoever. I need more attention from you. And then a third possibility. It might be like a lack of understanding. So that could be a function of that behavior. And again it could be a combo. So when you think, kind of critically, about why is my child asking this question or talking a lot about the Coronavirus, then you can think about how do I respond them as a parent. If it’s fear-based, then you want to lean more toward like giving them the space to talk about it, connecting what they’re thinking and saying with how they’re feeling. Share how you’re thinking, how you’re feeling and answer their questions related to the Coronavirus.

[00:55:33] But at some point you might try to distract them. Get them playing a game, doing something fun. Let’s go on a walk guys. You know, we’re going out and you throw on your masks, things like that. If it’s attention seeking, you might want to think to try and spend, I know we’re all very busy, a little bit more time with quality time with your children. And Claire can post a link here, for this specific video I’ve shared in a previous webinar, it’s PCIT Parent Child Interaction, but this specific video clip is an adult demonstrating with a child two to seven years old, this specific play by the way. And you can tweak it as they get older. Specific place skills that have been shown to increase child self-esteem, strengthen the parent-child relationship, et cetera. Thank you, Claire. She just did it. and if it’s a lack of understanding, that’s the function of behavior again, then you might want to try and educate your child a little bit more, answer questions they have about the Coronavirus, but make sure that you’re informed.

[00:56:26] So like Steven and Pam were referencing, you know, local public health officials and departments, consult those like their website. You can also look for the CDC website, make sure you have the facts right about Coronavirus. And then, you can convey those to your child in age appropriate ways. I mean, my kids six and a half, one thing that has helped him is to be able to, he’s a big drawer, you know, and so when we’d have conversations about the Coronavirus, he would just hit the paper, you know, and start drawing with markers. And  I would do it with him, so you get quality time and your child is expressing in this case, my, my son, he’s a he, his feelings on paper, which is very developmentally appropriate for that age. That’s what I got for that one.

[00:57:07] And we got about a minute left here Mariela, your call, or if you want to chime in about something.

[00:57:13]Mariela Puentes: Well, I think you had a lot of really great information Dr. Seth Shaffer

[00:57:18] Dr Seth Shaffer: Call me Seth.

[00:57:19]Mariela Puentes: About like figuring out what the root of the behavior is, or like what the root cause of that is. I would say the only other thing, is to try and find like family projects or activities that you can do together, if like your kids are into that. And maybe it’s something as simple as like gardening together. Maybe it’s playing basketball together. Maybe your kids are super curious about their family history, right? And you want to have them interview family members and you want them to develop their own questions and figure out a way to capture that information so that they can work a little bit independently and also practice their reading, writing, and critical thinking. So just a thought for how to keep the learning going.

[00:58:00] Dr Seth Shaffer: Great thought. One final thing that Claire can maybe post here in the chat. I came up with or found some relaxation based techniques. So these would be in the form of videos that demonstrated, there should be three of them, no, two of them. One is a grounding technique, five, four, three, two, one, it’s a YouTube video, so it demonstrates how to do it. It’s distraction based actually not so much of relaxation technique. But grounding can help you relax. So this helps your child refocus or focus on something else in kind of a game like way.

[00:58:32] The second one is five finger breathing. There she posted it. Thank you, Claire. Five finger breathing. Right. So particularly with like, you know, preschool even, or maybe like elementary school, you can do five finger breathing. That was a bad demonstration, but you can click that link, and it’s modeled for you there. And then for older kids, for those of you who aren’t familiar, and you yourself, there’s like Headspace is a good app to download. And I think up to like 10 sessions guided meditation sessions in Headspace are free. So, you know, that might be good for the older kids. And again, you know, for you.

[00:59:10] What’s next here?

[00:59:11] Nikevia Thomas: Great.

[00:59:15] Dr Seth Shaffer: Great questions. Keep them coming.

[00:59:18] Nikevia Thomas: So now we don’t have any more time. [chuckles] We have to keep going.

[00:59:24] So we have a list of resources here that we’ve mentioned today, and these will be sent out during our, when we send out the recording to all participants. Please stay connected with us. We have updates for COVID-19, information and resources for families across the country. And please also sign up for our newsletter we’re Learning at Home, where we will be answering some other questions that weren’t here.

[00:59:53] For next, in the next coming weeks, we have two exciting things coming up. On next Thursday, we are having a discussion about Family Leadership and Advocacy in School, Reopening Decisions with DC PAVE. And then also, the following Thursday, August 6th, we will be talking about Family Voices in School Reopenings.

[01:00:14] Please join our mailing list for more updates. And please take a few moments to complete our survey. We thank everyone for participating and we thank our panelists and our partners and our colleagues. Thank you very much.

[01:00:30] Dr Seth Shaffer: Thank you everyone. Be safe.


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