My most recent experience in making policy has been co-authoring and implementing our COVID-19 Return to School policy. What an experience that has been! To return to in-person instruction, our school had to submit a Return to School plan to the Virginia Council for Private Education (VCPE) and the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) in compliance with Governor Northam’s Phase Guidance for Schools and in accordance with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) Guidance for School, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), the Department of Social Services (DSS) and the Virginia Department of Labor & Industry (DOLI) standards.  You know you are dealing with the government when your sentence looks like a bowl of alphabet soup! This unprecedented year of COVID-19 has required fastidious attention to ever-changing laws, regulations, guidelines, and best practices. It has affected every aspect of the way we, as a school, do business, safeguard our staff and students’ health and well-being, and provide instruction and supervision.

Often, we had to sift through conflicting guidelines from various agencies.  For instance, though CDC guidelines were touted as the gold standard on the federal level; however, we are held accountable for following the state mandates. This clarification was helpful to us in establishing allowances in our Return to School policy. For example, the CDC recommends six feet for social distancing; however, Governor Northam’s Phase Guidance for Schools permits three feet.  Three feet makes quite a difference when determining student ratios per square footage. It also begs the question, why are six feet the safe standard for everywhere except schools? Is Governor Northam’s guidance based on safety and science, or the politics and special interests Ruccucci suggests often lie behind a situation?

Though most K-12 private schools and some public schools resumed in-person learning in the fall, most public schools remained in remote learning despite many parents advocating for in-person learning. On January 21, 2021, newly elected President Biden issued an executive order to support the safe reopening of schools.  At this time, new messaging from the CDC is urging schools to return in-person.  In Virginia, Governor Northam today put out a new call for all K-12 schools to provide in-person learning options available by March 15, 2021, and provide optional summer instruction. Though the release and beginning administration of new vaccines offer hope of a return to normalcy, by all accounts, it will be summer or fall before strict safety measures start to ease and conditions ameliorate. One has to wonder about the timeliness of these updated CDC guidelines, the incoming new administration, and the state-level response. The path dependency model seems to fit here. As Ruccucci suggests, political forces motivated by social and economic factors use strategies and power plays to shift public policy as it suits their ends. Reading Ruccucci’s book has opened my eyes to consider what’s at play behind the play-the major stakeholders, the tools and strategies, and the sustainability and stability of the drifts and shifts.