Going into a school building in New York these days is a time-consuming process. Visitors are required to have their temperature checked and are asked a series of questions about any possible symptoms related to Covid-19 before they are allowed to set foot inside. Once there, they are closely monitored by staff who swoop into recently vacated rooms to disinfect everything inside.
In a word, it's cumbersome.
At the Greenburgh Central School District, just north of New York City, it's also the new normal for a faculty that closed out the 2020 school year in buildings with no students. Now, as they enter summer break, they still don't know if school is going to open again in the fall, and if it does, which new guidelines they'll have to follow.
"We're in the phase of making sure that we have multiple plans in preparation for whatever's going to happen to September, but planning is key," said Dr. Tahira Dupree Chase, the Greenburgh district's superintendent.
States nationwide are putting out their plans for reopening schools in the fall, even as the the number of cases of coronavirus is spiking in more than half of the country. Opening schools is critical to reopening the broader economy, and educators and parents are worried that another semester outside the classroom will leave students even further behind academically.
New York state has issued guidelines for reopening higher education institutions, and last Friday New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his plan to open the largest school district in the country for as many students as possible.
The state has established a task force to guide schools on their options. It has held regional meetings to get input from parents and teachers as well as education and health officials and is now distilling that information before developing guidelines and any regulatory changes needed. There is, as yet, no date on when those will be available or when classes will restart.
That leaves leaders at districts like Greenburgh scrambling to figure out how to use the precious summer weeks to plan for fall.
When asked at what point a decision needs to be made about next semester, Dupree Chase laughed. "Like, now," she said. "Actually, we don't have much time because there has to be a point of planning. There has to be a point of then communicating that plan, because we do have parents who are apprehensive," she added.
The apprehension Dupree Chase mentioned is real, among parents, educators and administrators CNN talked to. Even though parents want their kids to go back to the classroom, they're worried that reopening school without a vaccine could be dangerous.
"I think we should stay home until February when all of this virus goes away so that everyone can be safe," said Monifa Tippitt, an elementary school parent.
Greenburgh is planning for multiple scenarios in the fall, including sending groups of students to school on a half-day schedule to keep the building emptier to allow social distancing, as well as maintaining a voluntary online-only "virtual academy" for students whose parents want them to stay home.
But all of it is up in the air until the state guidance comes through. That has left educators flailing.
"We left in March thinking we would be back in two weeks," said Mary Mekeel, a veteran Greenburgh high school teacher, "and here it's June and we're packing up and do I set up for fall? I don't know."