Schools and Long-term Closures

By Carlisa Bydume, CFCC Student Fellow (2019-2020)

There are a plethora of reasons why schools may close for extended periods of time, such as teacher strikes, natural disasters, or what the world is experiencing currently with a national pandemic. This blog seeks to raise awareness about the fact that many school systems across the country are unprepared for any long-term closure or academic interruption. I am also providing suggestions for how schools can prepare to better serve students when extended school closings occur. 

One issue that results in long-term school closures is a teacher strike. It is illegal for teachers to strike in 40 of the 50 states.[1] In the ten states where teachers are allowed to strike, there is no formal plan outlining how schools can operate in the event teachers strike. In 1981,[2] teachers in Ohio went on strike for 85 school days, impacting 3,700 students. In 1986,[3] teachers in Homer, Illinois, went on strike for 156 school days, requiring parents to find alternative methods of education. Some families switched to private schools, while others moved to another district. 

Natural disasters also caused long-term school closures. Hurricane Katrina had devastating effects on student learning. Many Hurricane Katrina students were sent to other states to go to school. Thirty-four percent[4] of all the students who were affected were held back from advancing to the next grade. These students were classified as the “Katrina generation.” Many impoverished students who had no means to travel to another state to live and go to school ended up dropping out of school. Statistics showed that 90% of the Katrina generation students lost a year of learning.[5]Tens of thousands[6] of students missed years of school after Hurricane Katrina. 

With the Covid-19- pandemic, teachers and students across the country are in the dark about how the rest of the year will turn out and how students will complete their grades. Teacher strikes and natural disasters present very different scenarios than those resulting from the current pandemic. What is clear, however,  is that from 1981 to 2020, no evolution has occurred across the country about how to approach extended school closures. Below are a few suggestions for how schools can better prepare for these long-term closures.

One way schools can prepare for possible closures is to create an emergency student curriculum to utilize during a long-term closure. This involves creating pre-recorded lessons for each grade for the year, with detailed written learning packets that correspond to the lessons. Teachers can record their lessons and create the corresponding lesson packets while they teach during the normal school year. If the lessons are recorded in this manner, it does not add extra pressure on the teachers or the administration. Recording these lessons is a year-long process. Additionally, in jurisdictions where content is consistent throughout the locality, the local governing education system can have model teachers record basic lessons for each unit, as well as create corresponding packets. Students then can access these lessons via their school portal in the event of an unexpected extended school closure. 

In order for this strategy to succeed, schools need to identify which students have access to computers and the Internet, and which students do not. In order to obtain this critical information, schools can incorporate questionnaires in the enrollment, transfer, and beginning of the year packets parents receive. These questionnaires need to be mandatory; they can identify those students lacking access to computers and Internet. With this knowledge, schools then can identify quickly which families need supports in the event of an extended school closure. This allows schools to ensure that students who do not have computers and Internet access are provided the  necessary tools to learn and succeed. For students who do not have computer access, the pre-created lesson packets can serve as an interim measure until access is supplied. Currently, I am not aware of any jurisdictions implementing a plan similar to the one I have outlined.

Unexpected disruptions in the school year not only affect school administration, but they drastically and negatively impact the students and their families. When parents are forced to determine what to do academically with their children and how to teach them, the children struggle. Some never recover. If planning can occur in advance of any long-term school closure  to protect the academic success of the students, then it needs to happen. 

[1] Cimini, Kate. “Teacher Strikes Are Illegal in West Virginia…so How Did They Strike?” Medill News Service, 8 Mar. 2018,

[2] Ravenna, Ohio, Teachers’ Strike.” Ravenna, Ohio, Teachers’ Strike – Ohio History Central, Ohio History Connection,,_Ohio,_Teachers’_Strike.

[3] Cbs. “1986-1987 Strike In Downstate Homer Lasted 8 Months.” CBS Chicago, CBS Chicago, 16 Oct. 2019,

[4] Wade, Lisa. “The Devastating Effect Hurricane Katrina Had on Education.” Pacific Standard, Social Justice Foundation, 1 Sept. 2015,

[5] Id..

[6] Id.

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