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School Views: Time to look back to move forward

Philip Qualman
School Views

We can all agree we’re excited to see COVID-19 fading out of view. However, while our memories are still fresh, it is time to conduct an After Action Review of our pandemic response. We need to discuss what worked, what didn’t and how we could do it better next time.

Philip Qualman

I spent many summers as a commercial raft guide. As a trip leader and guide trainer, whenever a significant incident occurred, myself and the other guides would meet immediately following the trip and review it. Flipping a raft, wrapping a boat on a rock, or having a guest swim in the river was potentially life-threatening.

Before calling it a day, we would review every factor that contributed to the incident, how we responded, the results of those responses, and what we would do in the future to avoid the situation and improve our responses. It was reflexive. It was an integral part of the job, and we became better guides because of it.



It’s now time to approach the COVID-19 response in much the same manner before the memories and data are too difficult to meaningfully recover. A proper AAR of the COVID-19 response means working with numerous agencies and school districts to compare the immense amount of data that has been collected across all our states and even between nations.

Conflicting COVID-19 guidance from local, state, and federal agencies and the politicization of the pandemic meant school districts around the country (16,800 of them) were often left to implement mitigation and safety protocols on their own. That means there are up to 16,800 different school district data sets on what worked and what didn’t. It’s time to bring that information together to better prepare ourselves for a similar situation in the future.



One has to enter into an AAR with a healthy dose of humility. It’s likely you will discover mistakes were made. As a river guide, you recognize a better line entering a rapid could have been chosen. Or maybe you misread the current or missed an important safety eddy. The list goes on and on. However, at the end of the process you learn what worked and what didn’t and you are better prepared for the next trip.

I’ve inquired at the local and state level to learn who is conducting the After Action Review for schools’ COVID-19 responses in the state of Colorado. I am saddened to report that little if any energy is currently being spent on this task.

It will be a daunting undertaking to collect and analyze the data, as mountains of it exist. Every district can show when they implemented and ended mask mandates, social distancing, and remote learning. Every community can show when vaccines were available, and when and at what percentage their populations became vaccinated. Every school can show attendance data broken down by reason codes. Every district can show when staff were out and why.

I’ll keep posing these questions to the Colorado Department of Education, the Colorado Department of Public Health, and other state leaders. I believe this is important and your help would be appreciated. Reach out to your local government agencies and state representatives and impress upon them the importance of sharing this information.

We need to push governmental agencies and research firms to lead an effort to review pandemic responses in our schools, and have the courage to compare the data from district to district and with other states and nations. We have an ideal opportunity to grow and improve our response, but it will take a great amount of humility, courage, effort and leadership to make it happen.


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