Tracking the Reopening of Schools with an Eye on Equity

Megan Collins, a pediatric ophthalmologist at Wilmer Eye Institute has found herself at the center of one of the most important discussions of the COVID-19 pandemic: school equity.

Collins’ experience with the public school system began during the Baltimore Reading and Eye Disease Study (BREDS) and extended into the Vision for Baltimore program. In both cases, Collins and her colleagues checked the vision of children in Baltimore City Public Schools and provided free glasses to children who needed them. In the process of working on these projects, Collins and researchers identified a new area of concern: compliance. If children receive glasses, how does one ensure they wear them? To achieve this goal, Collins began forming relationships with teachers, school administrators and parents, and became aware of the many stakeholders involved in a school system.

Collins’ expertise and relationships with stakeholders led her to play a key role in the creation of the Johns Hopkins Consortium for School-Based Health Solutions. A collaboration between Johns Hopkins’ schools of medicine, education, public health and nursing, the consortium develops and improves the delivery of school-based health care programs.

As the world and the U.S. transformed, and with the closure of schools in Baltimore City on March 13, 2020, Collins and her consortium partners were well situated to begin conversations with stakeholders about what the children were receiving in schools that they now needed to receive at home.

“We recognized that all kids are negatively impacted by school closures, but kids from low-income and disadvantaged backgrounds are going to suffer disproportionately,” says Collins. “And how should we be thinking about supporting kids and supporting schools to think through these issues? That was the genesis of what's called the eSchool+ Initiative, says Collins.

Members of the consortium teamed up with faculty from the schools of public health, education and medicine, and the Berman Institute of Bioethics to create the eSchool+ Initiative. “The group’s focus is equity issues related to COVID-19 K-12 school responses — both closures in spring 2020 and planned reopening in fall 2020,” says Collins.

Their work includes: