Reopening School: 8 Considerations for Fall 2020
Almost everyone is asking, “What will school look like for students and educators in the fall of 2020?” With the unknowns around COVID-19 and how it will behave, school leaders are forced to make educated decisions and come up with effective solutions to ensure everyone’s safety when reopening schools.
Although every school community and library is different, we hope you’ll find these ideas and resources a good starting point for planning how to open your school back up as safely as possible. How you handle any of these steps should be based on the direction of your local authorities, public health officials, and school leadership. Consult with your school’s legal counsel before putting any new policies into place.
Implement CDC-Recommended Guidelines
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a decision tree and reopening guide for schools that is filled with resources to assist K-12 administrators.
Key considerations include being prepared to do the following:
- Protect high-risk students and staff
- Screen students and staff on arrival for exposure
- Provide or enforce face coverings for staff, as well as students, if feasible
- Provide adequate hygiene supplies
- Promote healthy hygiene practices
- Intensify cleaning practices
- Ensure social distance through spacing and smaller group sizes
- Provide ongoing monitoring and have a plan in place for sick employees or students
Set Protocols Before You Open Your Doors
Even before you open your doors to students, you may be bringing some staff members back to prepare the building. Provide on-site staff with personal protective equipment, such as gloves, masks, and face shields, as well as hand sanitizer. Install acrylic pass-through barriers to separate staff and students in high-interaction areas, such as the front office desk and the circulation desk in the library.
Now is also the time to review your employee attendance policy. Educators and other staff who feel they’ll be penalized for staying home when sick may attempt to come to work while still contagious. Ensure that your policy provides clear options for employees who are ill to encourage them to stay home.
Along with updating your employee attendance policy, you’ll also want to consider how you can prevent staff who are symptomatic from coming to work. Options include providing them with thermometers and asking them to take their temperature each day before reporting to work or setting up stations to take temperatures when they arrive at the door.
You will also want to evaluate your nursing space needs at this time to ensure you’re prepared to isolate any students or staff who may become symptomatic while at school. Do you have enough resources or might you need to expand your space and increase resources?
Make sure your entire school community understands that they must follow the CDC guidelines for disinfecting and preventing the spread of germs. Display clear signage instructing students to follow good hygiene practices, and create guidelines and social distancing reminders throughout the building with floor decals. You can place additional handwashing or disinfecting stations in areas where sinks are not available.
Develop new protocols for key parts of the school days, such as drop off and pickup. This may mean staggering start times or labeling routes for outdoor pedestrians. Lunch and snacks may need to become individual portions delivered to students in their classrooms. Playgrounds may need to be closed and recess held as a structured physical education period.
Reconsider Your School Hours
Many schools are considering options for how to separate students in what are often already-crowded classrooms and how to make up for learning losses. Options include the following:
- Have half your students attend in the morning, disinfect during lunchtime, and have the other half of your students attend in the afternoon.
- Have half of each grade level attend on Mondays and Tuesdays, clean on Wednesdays, and have the other half of your students attend on Thursdays and Fridays.
- Have some students attend virtually while others attend in person, or have students attend in person half the day and virtually the other half.
- Have some students attend class virtually from another location in the building.
- Extend the school year or run year-round to allow for more instructional time.
- Have students attend nighttime or Saturday classes (in person or virtually).
Schools must also consider the needs of students whose caregivers make the decision to keep them home from school due to the risk of infection. Consider whether you are able to provide or continue an online-learning model for these students.
Reroute the School Day
Fewer students in the hallways means less crowding; however, anyone who works with children knows it’s hard to keep them in their own personal space. Many schools are planning to create one-way hallways or use barriers down the middle of hallways to keep traffic flowing in each direction and cut down on intermingling. You can use signage, floor decals, or rope barriers, to mark hallway traffic directions, block off certain routes,and keep traffic moving in the right direction.
In rooms that have more than one entrance, you may want to clearly label one as the entrance and one as the exit to define the flow of traffic through the room.
Minimize movement within the building by keeping groups together throughout the day and bringing resources into kids’ individual spaces. This might include art instruction that happens in the classroom and mobile library services that visit classrooms.
If space allows, hold physical education classes outside with an appropriate amount of spacing between participants. Tools such as the Classroom Cruiser stationary bike can provide a safe physical outlet for students in the classroom or hallway.
School leaders may need to utilize larger spaces within schools, such as the library, cafeteria, band room, and gymnasium, as well as outdoor spaces, to separate students according to CDC guidelines. These spaces can be used to create several instruction spaces.
Spaces such as the library often already have a variety of work surfaces set up for instruction, and the librarian will know a number of ways to best utilize the space to accommodate different groups while maintaining essential library services.
The key to repurposing other spaces is to use furniture that allows for flexibility, including mobile desks and tables, mobile dividers such as whiteboards, as well as other easily cleaned surfaces, such as vinyl-coated or plastic furniture. Mobile work surfaces can also be used to create learning spaces in areas not normally used for learning, such as hallways or atriums.
Weather permitting, holding classes outdoors may be a good option to allow students to spread out and minimize contact during lessons. Outdoor space is also an option for school lunches, which may otherwise need to be eaten at desks or in smaller groups spaced appropriately throughout the cafeteria or gymnasium.
Separate Student Workspaces
Reevaluate your classrooms and library to determine how you can separate students by at least 6 feet. The CDC also recommends that student desks be situated so that they all face the same direction or face away from each other. Individual mobile desk barriers can help separate students and their portability means they can go wherever the students go.
If you cannot remove desks to space out students, clearly mark desks that are off limits with taped Xs. Or, you may wish to color-code desks with tape. Mark one set that will be used by one group of students and color-code the rest of the desks with another color. If you have tables for work surfaces, you can also introduce tabletop acrylic barriers to create independent workstations.
Taped guidelines or decals on the floor are good visual reminders for students and staff to stay within a designated space. Schools that have reopened their doors in Montana are finding visual cues like these to be essential to helping kids follow social distancing guidelines. Their cues include marks on the floor to designate where to stand, pool noodles to help show kids what a 6-foot distance looks like, and hula hoops for kids to hold as they walk through the hallways.
You may also want to store manipulatives for the time being, or have a plan in place for disinfecting them between use. The CDC recommends having as many individual supplies assigned to students and kept in separate labeled bins as possible and discouraging students from sharing tools.
To keep kids reading, follow these procedures for quarantining books that are loaned out from classroom libraries.
Continue to Support Technology Tools
Access to technology and IT support will be key to continuing a hybrid classroom model. Virtual tutors may also play a role in tackling academic regression, according to one superintendent.
Even when in-person classes resume, you may wish to encourage educators to assign and collect assignments through the use of technology tools. One benefit to this model is that it prepares students for the ways of working and sharing resources they will experience in college and in their careers.
Focus on Communication and Mental Health
Your entire community — students, staff, and parents and caregivers — will have concerns about going back to school, with varying degrees of intensity. Having a good communication plan and mental health resources in place can help everyone make the adjustments they need to make.
Prepare FAQ documents for staff and for parents and caregivers to let them know what to expect for the first few weeks of school. Make it clear that you will keep them updated as information and protocols change. Include information on what steps you are taking to mitigate risks and how you will handle potential hazards, such as confirmed viral cases.
To help students feel comfortable in their new classrooms, ask teachers to create videos showing their incoming students what their new classrooms will look like and walking them through the safety procedures. Teachers should show their faces in their videos both without a mask and in a mask to help students become comfortable with this new look. If both teachers and students will be wearing masks throughout the school day, have teachers create bulletin boards with their photo at the top and photos of their student’s faces below to help with facial recognition. Staff may wish to consider using face shields instead of masks to allow students to see their faces.
Most of all, lead with compassion, make decisions based on local and federal recommendations, and follow your heart to continue to promote learning and community within your school.
Sources and Recommended Reading
- “6 Classroom Changes Teachers Will Make When Schools Reopen,” Gina Denny, Education Week: Teacher
- “A Blueprint for Back to School,” American Enterprise Institute
- “Child Care, Schools, and Youth Programs: Plan, Prepare, and Respond,” CDC
- “Considerations for Schools,” CDC
- “COVID-19: Safety Tips for Reopening Your Library,” Dr. Dipesh Navsaria
- “Here’s What Designers and Architects Anticipate Schools Will Look Like in the Fall and After COVID-19,” Yvonne Marquez, Spaces4Learning
- “How to Quarantine Books in Your School Library”
- “The Present and Our Future: Reopening America’s PublicSchools,” Mel Westbrook
- “Saturday Classes? Schools Mull Ways to Make Up Lost Time,” Carolyn Thompson, AP
- “Schools Are Opening Worldwide, Providing a Model for the U.S.,” Stephen Merrill, Edutopia
- “Smaller Classes, 1-Way Staircases and Handwashing Schedules: L.A. County Officials Offer Framework for Coming School Year,” Kristina Bravo and Wendy Burch, KTLA5
- “‘These Kids Are Coming Back’: Reopened Montana School Offers Peek at What Fall Might Bring,” Skylar Rispens, USA Today
- “What Will Schools Do in the Fall? Here Are 4 Possible Scenarios,” Emily Tate, EdSurge