There are many rumors floating around amongst students, staff, and parents concerning how schools will operate and return to some semblance of ‘normal’ once it is safe to return. Amid widespread dissemination of unverified information, it is essential that people remain calm and listen only to news confirmed by officials or otherwise qualified parties.
Experts say that physically going back to school will require extreme measures to ensure that students, teachers, and staff are safe and healthy. Preventative measures such as wearing masks, undergoing temperature checks, washing hands, constant sanitization, and maintaining social distancing will likely become a new normal for students when the transition from remote to traditional classes inevitably takes place.
After the Danish Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, announced that schools could begin reopening, an elementary school in Denmark reopened their doors in mid-April after four weeks of online learning. For now, only kids age twelve and under are allowed to return to the classroom, contingent upon their adherence to the set safety measures. The Copenhagen International School (CIS) in Denmark set up classrooms to accommodate no more than ten children and one teacher, with desks spaced apart to adhere to social distancing orders. They also set guidelines only allowing five children on the playground at any given time. The school even has their students line up next to traffic cones spaced six feet apart before entering school.
While CIS’s actions have instilled hope in many that schools will reopen imminently, researchers like Maria Litvinova from the Institute for Scientific Interchange says that schools will not be ‘safe’ to reopen unless there is a vaccine or treatment. If and when US schools decide to open prior to the development of a widely accessible vaccine, officials will be looking to countries like Denmark for direction on how to reopen in the safest way possible. If the US adopted a similar plan to CIS, classroom sizes will greatly influence the number of students that can be in the same room while social distancing. For perspective, the average New York classroom would be able to fit a maximum of only twelve students.
Due to reduced class sizes, the next step would be to stagger schedules. A staggered schedule could mean that some students go to school in the morning while others go to school in the afternoon. Another possibility would be for some students to attend school on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, while others would go on Tuesday and Thursday; they would then switch their schedules weekly.
There is a high possibility that the school year will be extended to make up for lost time. California Governor Gavin Newsom inspired a statewide debate when he released a statement on Apr. 28 with plans to reopen schools in July in an effort to reduce learning gaps. Some people are excited to get back to a normal schedule; however, the Teachers Union stated that they would protest the reopening of schools if their return was not accompanied by proper safety measures. They also expressed the desire to adhere to the advice of medical officials for the safest return date.
According to NPR, large student events like football games and other gatherings are unlikely to take place because “students can’t mix in large groups.” In further measures to ensure safety, it is also likely that parents will not be allowed on school campuses when they reopen in yet another attempt to limit the number of people in one place. All these efforts work to slow the spread of infection and stop a potential second wave of the coronavirus.
It seems that no matter what schools will look like, online learning will play a major role in education from now on until the safety of students and staff is guaranteed. This level of safety can only be ensured when a treatment or vaccine is available. According to NPR, experts say that online education will remain intact even if schools reopen with a staggered schedule, and schools will be prepared to close again if a second wave of COVID-19 hits.
(Sources: NPR, The Washington Post, Politico)