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Ideas for Reopening Elementary Schools with Social Distancing

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

“Seven Steps to Sending Elementary Kids Back to School and Parents Back to Work” by Michael Petrilli in The Education Gadfly, May 15, 2020 _____________________________________________________________________ In this Education Gadfly article, Michael Petrilli suggests guidelines for opening elementary schools in the fall, drawing on advice from the CDC, schools in other countries that have successfully reopened, and K-12 policymakers. Petrilli believes getting adults back to work is a major imperative, and having schools open will make that possible. With the strong likelihood of cuts in school budgets, any plan must be affordable. And no plan can give 100 percent guarantees because the virus will still be around until a vaccine is widely available. But Petrilli believes elementary schools can be reopened if we follow these steps: • Give students and educators the choice of full-time remote learning for the coming school year. This is a moral and legal imperative for families with medical risks, and for those who want to quarantine pre-vaccine. Schools would need to make remote learning as attractive and effective as possible, which might mean outsourcing some functions to learning providers. • Have K-3 students attend school Monday to Friday while grade 4 and 5 students come to school on alternating weekdays, thinning out the student population to make physical distancing easier. “While it’s hardly ideal,” says Petrilli, “fourth and fifth graders can do some independent work and can be left at home during the school day.” In schools where that doesn’t seem wise, he suggests using middle-school classrooms for grade 4-5 students and having grade 6-8 students spend more time learning independently at home. • Run buses at 50 percent capacity or less. This might mean staggered bus schedules, more buses, or more students carpooling, walking, and biking to school. • Require daily screening of adults and students, mask wearing, and frequent hand-washing in organized bathroom visits. And of course any student or adult showing signs of illness would be required to stay home. • Keep all groups to 10-12 students and use every possible space around the school and every available adult (including volunteers) to supervise all the groups. This schoolwide social distancing means that students wouldn’t mix beyond their mini-homerooms at recess (which would be staggered throughout the day), students would eat in their classrooms, and there would be no assemblies, field trips, or other large-group events. • Teachers move, students stay put. Homeroom teachers and specialists would rotate from room to room to reach all their students – two groups for homeroom teachers, more groups for art, music, media, physical education, and other specials. • Have a clear plan if there’s an outbreak. If someone in the school community tests positive, the school would be closed for deep cleaning, contacts traced and tested, and if necessary, quarantined. It might be necessary for the school to be closed for two weeks to ensure there’s no super-spread to the community.

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