Considerations for Adult Basic Skills Program Decisions of Life and Death Importance

Hello Program Management colleagues and others,

This may be among the most important discussions we have had in the Program Management group. Please read through this carefully, and please contribute.

If the decision has not yet been made, your program or adult school may need to decide soon about whether or not to resume in-person classes and, if so, under what conditions and requirements. This discussion’s purpose is to share and discuss considerations so that, whatever your decisions are, you have information about what other adult basic skills education programs are considering, planning or doing.

I will list some considerations and possible choices below; however, after reviewing them I would like your help in adding other considerations that I may have missed, asking for clarity about what others or I have posted here, adding new perspectives, particularly those that are important to the instructors, other staff and adult learners at your program or school.

From this discussion we will not necessarily have "the answers," and this is not a prescription, or a set of regulations of any kind. This is a discussion of considerations, and its purpose is to provide an opportunity to think about this together in the broader context of what other adult basic skills programs and schools may be considering or doing.

This will be especially useful if you participate, if you share what you are considering, or are or will be doing. Your perspective as an instructor, program administrator, or state administrator is of particular interest. For example, if you have been told to follow certain regulations or policies, and these are available digitally, please share the link(s) to them so others here can benefit. If the decisions are solely or largely up to you, what considerations are you weighing? If you would like to share concerns but want to do so anonymously, you can email them to me at and I will consider posting them without attribution. Just to be clear, however, this is not the venue to air local grievances or to rant. This discussion is to share important considerations and deliberations that might benefit others who may also now or soon be grappling with these tough decisions. Sharing might also benefit you, as others may ask you good questions or offer alternatives that you had not thought of.  Finally, you may be considering -- or possibly have implemented -- an innovative approach to a challenge in delivering in-person, remote, or hybrid instruction. Share your approach please so we can all benefit.

Possible health and safety considerations for these plans:

  1. Require teachers and students to all wear masks.
    • Offer them to students free of charge.
  2. Require frequent and thorough hand washing or hand sanitizing.
  3. Maintain social distancing – at least six feet apart or, in some cases, a greater distance.
    1. Have only up to half -- or fewer -- of the number of students the classroom usually can hold.
    2. Use only large, well-ventilated rooms for classes.
    3. Have staggered shifts for in-person classes so that students, instructors and others can pass in the entrances, exits and hallways at a proper social distance.
  4. Wipe down all surfaces before and after a class.
    1. Use cleaning and disinfecting regimens that comply with State Education program requirements or guidance from state Department of Health and/or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  5. Have adequate numbers of properly trained staff follow lavatory cleaning and disinfecting regimens multiple times each day.
  6. If learners use hall (or other) lockers, make sure these are cleaned and disinfected each day by properly trained staff, or do not allow the use of lockers.
  7. Require learners, teachers and other employees to use wellness self-screening questions, possibly recommended by your state Department of Health, that provide an easy way for them to review symptoms each day.
  8. Take the temperature of everyone entering the building every day.
  9. Have a nuanced and flexible plan and create in advance responsive backup and alternative plans that, if needed, can be quickly and deftly implemented.
  10. In addition to school classrooms, consider using for in-person instruction regularly cleaned and disinfected suitable spaces in public libraries, community centers, coffee shops, clubhouses in large apartment buildings, faith-based buildings and in other community spaces.
  11. If there has been direct exposure to someone who has tested positive for covid-19, follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or state or local recommendations or requirements. Have these on hand.
  12. Because eating and drinking involve removal of masks, meals and even snacks may not be possible.

Instruction Formats

  1. In-person classes adjusted to meet social distancing and other health and safety requirements;
    1. Instructors provide support for quarantined students by allowing them to remotely view the class.
  2. Hybrid model -- in-person one week, remote the next. Students rotating between in-person classes and synchronous or asynchronous remote viewing of the class
  3. Some students attend in-person classes and others view the class remotely either synchronously, for example through Zoom of Google Meet or asynchronously view archived versions of classes
  4. Fully remote/online/distance ed classes
    1. Synchronous, or
    2. Asynchronous


Your participation in this discussion is important. Please share what you -- and your program and school colleagues -- are thinking, considering, deciding or doing to offer safe and healthy adult basic skills instruction.

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Program Management group


We are consulting with an epidemiologist and our local health department to determine our best and safest way to resume in-person tutoring.  Many of our volunteers are older.  Most of our learners are very low level (ABE/BL and ESL/ELL).  We own none of the spaces in which we provide services.  All these factors create challenges.

We are considering all that was suggested.  We do have a concern about taking temperatures.  Will low-literate, less informed learners view "no one has a temperature" as no one is positive for COVID and therefore no one needs to wear masks.  Hmmmm.  I don't know.  Obviously, we will educate but it may send a confusing message to our lower level learners.

We are looking into the masks with clear midsections so everyone can see facial expressions and be able to work on pronunciation.  We are currently working with some local sewing/quilting circles to see if they will make and then donate to help us keep costs down (we would pay for materials).


We are really challenged with reopening.  Most of our volunteers are older.  ELL tutors only want to tutor in person ( if possible, which it is not currently - we are a hotspot) and cannot and do not want to learn how to Zoom or Facetime, etc their students.  We are down to a handful ( 5 maybe) of tutors who are working with students. There is really no good place to tutor in person - libraries, coffee shops, churches are closed to public seating.

Our HiSET and ABE tutors are more willing to tutor online and are capable and willing - but those students do not want to tutor online, they want face-to-face only - which is not possible.  We were NOT at all capable of going remote when Covid hit, so we are very behind the 8-ball.  We are waiting to hear about a grant for some mobile learning materials that basically I will sign everyone up for and become their tutor!

Financially, we cannot afford to take all the steps necessary to assure safety in our office - which has teeny tiny study rooms, one entrance and exit, one single bathroom shared by everyone.  We share an old building with the health department so we are a bit concerned about our own safety working in an old office and sharing the ventilation system with covid testing going on all day!  We can't afford the hand sanitizers, disposable masks, thermometer, gloves, etc, honestly right now.  


I am interested in this thread because there are students who WILL NOT get their HiSET if they can't meet in person and we do want to help them. But safely.


Pam DeMato

Student Services Coordinator

Memphis, TN


Thanks, Alison.

My understanding is that until we have a proven vaccine and a cure for the COVID-19 Coronavirus, the best we can do is to take measures that reduce the risk of infection. Epidemiologists' advice is the best we have, and as you have done, we all need to take it seriously. They appear to agree that the goal for now is not, at least until we have a vaccine and a cure, to promise a safe environment, but to take measures that will reduce the risk. I believe that can be explained to and understood by most adult learners regardless of whether or not they are good readers.

In some ways it's like the struggle to move one's family out of poverty. Teachers and tutors cannot promise that learning to read, write and do math, and then studying for and obtaining a HSE certificate will get one's family out of poverty. However, that combined with success in at least one year of community college has a much better chance of accomplishing that goal. Completing a two-year degree and or getting a certification further improves one's chances. Getting more training, getting jobs, performing well on them and getting good recommendations also improves one's chances. And so on.

Similarly, getting one's temperature checked and learning that it is fine is one positive health indication, but not a promise that one is not infected. Wearing a mask can help. Social distancing -- someone pointed to me that this may be a misnomer, that in no uncertain terms we mean measurable physical distancing of at least six feet -- can help. Frequently hand sanitizing or washing hand can help. There are other things, too, that can help, as I mentioned in my earlier post. One's chances of avoiding infection are improved by taking multiple measures of prevention. There are also some measures that we have learned do not offer help, some that may be dangerous to our health. It is important to teach how to separate out what is good advice from bad advice.

We all -- not just our students -- but all of us living with these uncertainties and probabilities -- have an increased degree of stress, so mental health is another important dimension of health and safety, that we need to help students, and teaching and tutoring colleagues, to address.

This is my first time to hear of the masks that you describe that "have clear midsections so everyone can see facial expressions and be able to work on pronunciation." That sounds like a promising idea for many instruction situations. Is there something you can point us to, Alison, links to where they might be purchased, or to a set of directions that we could use to make them ourselves? Is there any advice epidemiologists can give you, and us, in making these masks so that they are also as effective as possible? Does anyone else know about masks like these?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP, Integrating Technology group

Etsy has several versions of these kind of face masks. Here are a couple:

You can search on Etsy for "Masks with clear window". It's something I would consider if my program moves to in-person classes, but I don't think we're close to that yet. ESL students need to see more of your face and mouth for better learning. 

Jennifer Kluempen

ESL Instructor


Thanks for these links, Jennifer. Last week in my class with advanced English learners, we read an article about masks with windows which is available on  These types of masks are not only helpful to English leanrers, they are also incredibly important for anyone who is hearing impaired, especially those who read lips. Moreover, from reading this article, I learned that facial expressions communication information about grammar and wording in American Sign Language. Health care workers also like masks with windows since they enable patients to see them smile.

Take care, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

Lynne, a colleague from Virginia  asked that I post this here for her:

We are a tiny program in central Virginia, housed within the public library system of our county. ABE and ESOL tutoring are offered, 1-1, and small groups.

We are returning just this week to one-on-one tutoring in a face-to-face setting. Our program coordinator and her engineer husband created clear acrylic shields with rigid Styrofoam bases to place on the table in between the tutor and student for an extra layer of protection. The clear Plexiglas/acrylic sheets are scarce now, but we managed to find a limited amount. We plan to make more once the materials are available again. We are requiring that tutors and students both wear masks, and have hand sanitizer at the door. Things will be wiped down before and after the sessions.

We also have a covered patio at one of our locations, and we are offering that as an outdoor option. So far, people are slow to return. We’ve had a few who are eager to come back this week. We have one class of five students meeting via WhatsApp, and maybe two tutors using Skype, but most of our volunteer tutors are reluctant to embrace online tutoring. For now, our group classes do not meet, but most of them take the summer off anyway. We hope to find a way for them to resume in September, but frankly, it looks very iffy.

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Program Management group


Hello colleagues,

I was listening to a New Yorker Radio Hour broadcast recorded July 24th as a podcast; the topic was re-opening of schools. A question came up that may be relevant to some adult basic skills (including ESOL/ESL) classes: safety precautions for other rooms in an education setting, specifically a kitchen or faculty room. Do your state or local adult basic skills education guidelines or regulations for return-to-in-person classes include safety precautions for these other education program spaces: other rooms; entrances, exits and hallways; and other spaces in addition to classrooms? If so, please share the guidelines or regulations or guidelines here. Thanks.

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Program Management group