In order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus schools must adapt to changing conditions. Social distancing will involve limiting class size in order to keep students 6 feet apart, closing communal spaces, and restricting non-essential visitors. This is the antithesis of how schools usually operate as well as the antithesis to their core values of socialization and collaboration. Although schools cannot 100% eliminate the possible spread of the coronavirus, they can work to reduce the risk as much as possible. These are the challenges and decisions that school leaders must make to make ensure students have a safe return to in-person schooling.
School officials must factor in not only the logistics but the cost. Schools will need to have deep cleaning on a regular basis which may require increasing janitors’ hours. Staff needs to have accessible hand sanitizer for all students in the classrooms, bathrooms, lunch rooms. Also, smaller class sizes may require teachers to work more hours increasing their pay. This could cost districts millions of extra dollars.
In addition to cost, school and district leaders need to consider the new school rules. Should students and staff be required to wear masks all day? Is this safe? Should schools screen for fevers before allowing students and staff to enter? How will high risk staff and students be protected? These are just some of the questions that districts need to consider in their reopening plans.
Schedules must be changed in order to ensure that 6 feet distance can be accommodated in busses, hallways, cafeterias and classrooms. What will this look like? Some schools are planning a hybrid approach that combines distance learning with in person learning. Some other options include, a multi-track system, a staggered school day, a “bubble” method that keeps students in the same groups, a cyclical lockdown strategy, and converting to a year-round schedule. Some of these options may be used simultaneously.
While this is not a simple challenge and may have numerous solutions, the US needs to compete as schools around the world are reopening and employing strategies from opening one day a week to requiring all students to wear masks. Rules and regulations may look very different from district to district which could also widen the education gap depending on where you live. To say the least, It will be an interesting return to school.