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Mel Gravely

What to expect for Head Start after COVID-19

September seems so far from now, doesn’t it? Where will things stand at that time? Will school be back in session? Even as states begin cautiously reopening some businesses, schools remain closed. However, most expect that school will be back in session in the fall.

But what will that look like? As we try to get back to our normal routines, some things will continue to be different for quite a while, possibly even forever. Many of the same precautions we’re taking now, such as digital meetings, reduced travel, and mandated mask-wearing, will likely continue throughout the 2020-21 school year.

If you’re a teacher or parent feeling overwhelmed at the moment about how and when school will open, trust that you are not alone. That’s why we wanted to think about some of the ways that the coming school year might be different, so that we can anticipate and plan for them now. 

Social Distancing

Social distancing will no doubt be encouraged throughout next school year. For those in early childhood education, this presents quite the challenge. You can’t really make children of that age stay six feet apart. What you can do, however, is reduce classroom volume and stagger activities such as recess and lunchtime so that children don’t congregate in large groups. And of course ask staff and visitors to maintain their distance from each other.

Digital Meetings

We should all be experts in online meetings at this point. Head Start’s Board or Policy Council meetings will likely be held digitally for the foreseeable future. Although there are some downfalls to meeting through a screen, it’s also an opportunity to increase engagement since travel arrangements don’t have to be made. You could also interview new staff, conduct eligibility interviews with parents, and engage community leaders through digital meetings.

Online Training & Reduced Travel

In-person training opportunities will likely be greatly reduced, particularly large conferences. We could imagine all large conferences being put on hold until a vaccine is found.  As for smaller training opportunities, those will likely go online like digital meetings, especially when it would include parents or other community members.

Reducing Technology Barriers

Family Engagement is one of the primary goals of the Head Start program, and will continue to be. However, with meetings and trainings going online, technology barriers could stand in the way. Some families may lack internet service or share one device amongst the entire family. Head Start may need to come up with ways that they can support families who face these barriers. Now’s the time to think about what resources are available.

Sanitation Policies

New sanitation procedures will need to be put in place for the safety of everyone who enters a Head Start building. This could include more frequent janitorial service, regular disinfection of surfaces throughout the school day, and a thorough disinfection using specialized equipment if any COVID-19 cases are found.  This will all cost extra time and money for the Head Start program. 

Mandatory Masks

Again, I don’t see a situation where three and four-year-olds could wear masks. However, I can imagine a situation where at the very minimum, office staff and visitors will be required to wear masks, and possibly even classroom teachers.

Temperature Checks

While not widespread here in the United States, it wasn’t uncommon in other countries to face a  temperature check as soon as you walked into the door of a business, school, or even your own apartment. We could see that coming to the US as schools reopen.

Mandatory Vaccinations

We wrote a blog last year about Head Start’s policy on vaccinations, in which we explained that Head Start does not federally mandate that children be vaccinated. Instead, Head Start programs must follow state law just like any other public school when it comes to vaccinations. As you may know, some states allow exemptions from vaccines under certain circumstances. However, as the most disruptive pandemic in our lifetime, COVID-19 may convince federal legislators to write new requirements for Head Start and mandate certain vaccines. This is all just speculation of course, but we could see it being brought to the table for discussion.

These are just a few of the ways we can see things changing for Head Start in the next school year. What do you think? Do you think there will be more federal guidelines about how Head Start should operate in the post COVID-19 world? Do you think certain things will be mandated?  We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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  1. kelli mellerski says:

    My concerns are with group size and physical space to achieve full enrollment. Early Head start is easy enough, the group sizes are small. Head Start is much harder, especially at nap time, if we need to space the children 6 feet apart. Also spreading the children out at meal times, we would need to purchase more eating tables. This would also “eat up the usable space for children in the class room”. If we have to reduce the class rooms of a size less than 20 children and 2 staff, many Head Start programs don’t have the luxury of more empty class rooms to occupy. I think we can make the cleaning, and other restrictions work, space is not something that is easier to achieve.

  2. Janet says:

    Mandatory temperature testing upon entering would be feasible if Head Start children had to be at a center by a particular time. It is encouraged but when you know you can bring your child whenever you want and the center will feed them breakfast with very few consequences because children = money for Head Start you may have to hire extra staff just to man the doors to take temperatures.

  3. linda haddadin says:

    Thank you for this informative information . Ideally temperature checks are an absolute essential given the current situation . We definitely will need to reduce classroom sizes and even look at alternating classes to three days a week one week for one group and two the following week then switching the next week. Classroom visitors must be limited even among program visitors . The use of the outdoors as a learning space in states where it is weather permissible can also be utilized to promote space while ensuring quality learning and socialization continue to take place .

  4. Darla Hutson says:

    It will be interesting to see what regulations come into place. Right now, we are a small (group of 6) emergency childcare in IL. We expect to open with license capacity in July/August, but with public health mandates yet to be determined. Childcare is in a nationwide crisis. We have limited spots for parents who are considered non-essential/remote workers, and need to find more spots before the nation goes back to work (even remotely). With summer camps limited, parents with school-agers are scrambling to find alternative options. We have mask policies implemented with adults not entering the home. Mask policies for kids are useless in a childcare facility – we work too closely with kids each and every day. Temp checks, daily questions upon arrival, liability waivers (where commercial ins. will not cover), sanitation/increased handwashing protocols, and increased policies for fever/symptom(s) exclusions are all most likely coming. We need each state’s public health dept/DHS to lead these protocols, or we will have many centers and providers trying to develop their own without guidance. I hope all states (and Fed.) step up to lead and help fund childcare/head start/centers so that we can appropriately, and as safely as possible, care for staff and the children/families we serve.

  5. Gail L. Johnson says:

    I’m a teacher for the Head start program, and I have to agree with some of the statements in this article. I just don’t see how we will be able to keep mask on three and four year old children when it’s already impossible for most of them to keep their hands to themselves. This will be so different and very overwhelming for them at the same time.

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