From the Editor: Back to School, With a Twist
As this strange summer winds down, one of the hottest topics in the news has been the reopening of schools, with districts agonizing over whether to bring students together for in-person education or begin the year with at-home classes. With a mix of approaches being attempted, and guidelines changing almost daily, K-12 in-plants around the country are having to adapt. Some that were busy printing curriculum materials in the spring are not being asked to print any of that material for the new school year. Having had more time to come up with strategies, the districts plan to offer structured online courses instead of printed instruction materials, and are distributing laptops and iPads.
At some districts that had planned to bring students back to school, in-plants printed materials to support this model, only to have it change to 100% virtual learning when COVID-19 infections rose. Some in-plants have still not gotten orders for curriculum materials as their districts monitor their situations; others started printing materials for in-person learning, knowing the situation could change, but unable to complete the work without starting now.
At every K-12 in-plant I contacted, the demand for COVID-19-related signage is keeping them busy. Even signs already printed and installed are being replaced with better versions. They’re printing posters, stickers, removable adhesive graphics, floor graphics and more for school water fountains, restrooms, hallways, sidewalks, building entrances, and classrooms. To produce the massive volume of expected signage orders, one in-plant installed a Canon Colorado wide-format printer, then ordered two more of them, plus a Colex cutter. At Tacoma Public Schools, in Washington, after a very busy spring printing educational packets for at-home learning, Printing & Graphics has had a slow summer. Schools will be taught remotely in the fall and laptops are being distributed, so the in-plant has not gotten much in the way of curriculum materials to print.
A similar story is unfolding at Omaha Public Schools, which kept its in-plant’s two inkjet presses extremely busy in the spring printing curriculum materials. After initially giving parents a choice between in-school or remote education, the district suddenly switched to 100% virtual for the first nine weeks and distributed 54,000 iPads. The in-plant had just printed and distributed calendars with students’ attendance schedules. One big job the in-plant usually prints – student handbooks – was eliminated this year and turned into a digital handbook. Signage jobs are keeping the in-plant busy.
At Houston Independent School District, the in-plant is not scheduled to print any course materials, something that kept the shop very busy last spring. The start of school was delayed two weeks, until Sept. 8, with plans for classes to be entirely online.
In Kansas, Olathe Public Schools planned (at this writing) to start in-person classes on Sept. 8, and the in-plant has been printing curriculum materials. The shop has also gotten requests to print multiple copies of items like music sheets and flash cards, so kids won’t have to share and risk passing along the virus.
Though Richland School District, in Washington, has decided to go to a remote education model and is providing Chomebooks to students, the in-plant is still very busy. The curriculum department has sent a large order of books to the in-plant to be printed on card stock for use by students at home. During the pandemic, the in-plant’s copier contract ended, and it had the complicated task of choosing a new vendor and new equipment virtually. But Print and Publication Manager Chelle Palmer took it all in stride and got the machines installed without a hitch.
This is just another example of an in-plant doing what it does best: adapting to changing circumstances and adding value for its parent organization.
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Impressions since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited nearly 170 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, cosponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.