(CNN)With this school year disrupted for so many, students and their families are wondering what may happen in the fall. CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta speaks with CNN Correspondent Evan McMorris-Santoro about how educators, administrators and students have begun to think about what school will look like in the future.
The Future of Education: Dr. Sanjay Gupta's coronavirus podcast for May 12
You can listen on your favorite podcast app or read the transcript below.
Austin Beutner, superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District: I believe one of the lasting legacies of this will not be the jobless rate or the unemployment or how quickly restaurants can be reopened or we can have a Major League Baseball season. It will be the health of our public education system.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta: That was Austin Beutner. He's the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest public school system in the country. And now, he's wrestling with the same issue that all educators are facing: Because of this coronavirus pandemic, what will school look like in the future?
I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent. And this is "Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction."
As students head back to classrooms in other countries, schools are adapting in order to keep students safe.
In Taiwan, for example, there are now plastic partitions around the desks of elementary school students during lunch. The Australian government has asked more vulnerable staffers in their schools to work from home if possible. In Denmark, cafeterias are disappearing and students now eat in their classrooms to avoid large gatherings.
Now, it's the United States' turn to determine what must be done to open schools safely.
My colleague Evan McMorris-Santoro has been covering the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the United States educational system. I talked with him about how and when students — from pre-K to college — might go back to classrooms.
Gupta: What have you sort of seen? Are people processing this the way that you would expect? Or are they not believing that this is necessary? What are you hearing?
Evan McMorris-Santoro, CNN correspondent: Well, you know, one of the wildest things about this whole time has been just how quickly the change had to happen. So, you know, you think back to March, we're having a normal school year.
But everything changed just so quickly. The best way I can think about describing it actually came from Lily Eskelsen García, who's the president of the NEA [National Education Association], which is the largest teachers' union in the United States.
Lily Eskelsen-García, NEA president: We're in the middle of trying to find the right metaphor. A lot of teachers have said we're building the airplane while it's going down the runway. Another teacher said, "Oh, it's bigger than that. We're Apollo 13. We're Houston. And we have a problem. And our kids are on that spaceship with their parents, isolated."
McMorris-Santoro: The efforts that go into a successful school year are already massive. Right? Like the moon shot. We've got to get a crew to the moon and get them back. But what happened in this case was something went wrong along the way, and it actually made the job harder.
Because all of a sudden, it's not Apollo 11 now, it's Apollo 13, in which everything breaks down. And then you have to use only the tools inside people's lives and their home lives to get education done. You know, we think about that scene in the movie where they dumped that stuff on the conference table, it's like OK, here's all the tubes and stuff they have on the ship.
Apollo 13 clip: OK, people listen up. We've got to find a way to make this fit into the hole for this using nothing but that.
McMorris-Santoro: Well, this is what they're talking about when it comes to education. All you have is the technology inside people's houses, it's a very different kind of teaching. It's a very different kind of education. But the schools themselves, in terms of doing what we count on schools to do. They were not prepared for this.
Gupta: Do you get any sense, Evan, that they're starting to think about the fall? I mean, right now we hear about states reopening, obviously all over the country. And at the same time, we hear maybe there is going to be another wave or this isn't going to really go away. Is the general sort of idea that schools will be back open in the fall, or what are you hearing?
McMorris-Santoro: Well, the difficulty for schools is the same difficulty facing a lot of people, which is that they have to take a long time to plan where they're going to do next. But we don't know what's going to happen next.
So at a baseline level, I can say this. There will be schools open in the fall from the K through 12 level into the college level. What that looks like, we're not totally clear on.
Gupta: A few years ago for "60 Minutes," I did this piece about the Khan Academy. And they were making the case, I remember this years ago, that there could be advantages to online learning. Are there advantages that this type of learning offers over bricks and mortar?
McMorris-Santoro: When we went to a full online system, what we learned was that we had problems with things like the education gap. The education gap that already existed became much, much more broad. I spoke to a teacher in LA named Janin Spoor, you know, she can't even take attendance, absence rates are high.
Janin Spoor: We're dealing with a few things. We're dealing with some students whose parents still have to go to work. And so being the oldest, because I teach high school. So a lot of them are having to take care of younger siblings.
We do everything we can. We send e-mails and make phone calls and things like that. So I think that we are definitely going to have a learning gap. We're gonna see it in the next few years. We're going to have lower test scores. I think it's inevitable.
Gupta: As part of your reporting, have you been talking to the students themselves? I mean, I'm wondering what, how are they reacting to this, adapting to this?
McMorris-Santoro: The students are stressed out. We're hearing that from teachers. We're hearing that from parents. And I think in my own conversation with the students themselves, I felt that same thing. There is an excitement, I think, about something new at first.