To re-open or not to re-open schools; that is the current question. Sure school will start back this fall; however, no one is certain the form that start will take. Even if students return to traditional brick and mortar schoolhouses, their experience will not be anything which could be characterized as a return to pre-pandemic normal. There will be a new school normal in the schoolhouse, and pupils of all ages aren’t going to like it.
An education encompasses many facets. The experience includes not only classroom time, but time in the lunchroom, at P.E., in the hallways, and on the school bus. In fact, for many students, their school activities outside the classroom are their favorite parts of the day. Classroom or not, no school area will escape transformation in the new normal. What will the new normal look like?
To assist administrators and school boards in planning for school re-openings, the Centers For Disease Control (“CDC”) issued guidelines in May. The “lowest risk” option was identified as virtual-only classes activities, and events. Maybe I’m not as creative as CDC scientists, but how are you going to have a virtual-only high school football game with no fans, no players, no coaches, no bands, etc.? The only answer my non-scientific brain can produce is “You can’t.”
Let’s assume a school board decides to take a risk and rejects the virtual-only school option. What’s the best way to have school in a school building? CDC provides “considerations” to protect students, teachers, administrators, and staff by slowing the spread of COVID-19. Note that CDC apparently concedes the spread cannot be prevented, just slowed. If parents think it will be totally safe to send little Johnny back to school if the guidelines are followed, they are living in la la land–and I don’t mean Los Angeles or Lower Alabama.
So what’s a school to do to protect those within the little red schoolhouse? Let’s consider the steps which must be taken and how this will affect the students’ school experience.
Modified layouts of classrooms will be necessary. Per the CDC guidelines, desks must be spaced “at least” six feet apart. Forget buying your child a ruler as a school supply. A yardstick will be more practical. Desks should also face all the same direction, so there will be no circling of desks as the wagons are circled to protect against the spread of COVID-19. If table seating is utilized, students would sit on only one side of the table. That’ll have to be one long table to get more than one student at a table, just sayin’.
For younger students receiving marks for conduct, this new normal will be their new “friend.” With desks spaced a minimum of six feet apart, it will be difficult to carry on whispered conversations during lessons. At that distance, a student would have to shout to be heard. Forget the old-fashioned “Psst!” or a tap on the shoulder of the student sitting in front of you. The time-honored tradition of passing notes will also become a thing of the past. Who can reach six feet to surreptitiously hand one over?
For older students, changing classes will be a thing of the past. CDC advises “cohorting,” organizing students and staff into small groups that remain together during the school day. At most changing classes might mean merely changing teachers. Rather than have umpteen kids mingle with different students the next period, the students could stay in place and their teachers will play musical classrooms. So much for students looking forward to seeing the cute guy or gal in biology class; they are stuck with playing the field with the same class of students all day long. Romance is doomed.
Lunchroom? What lunchroom? CDC recommends closing communal spaces such as cafeterias or dining halls. Individual meals would be served and eaten in the classroom.
Say what? Students live for lunch period. No, it isn’t the mystery meat they can’t wait for—it is a break from classroom lessons and prohibitions on their talking. Lunch is the time for socializing! But how much socializing will occur with students eating a minimum of six feet apart?
Trading lunch fare will be a fond memory. Good luck seeing what your friend Timmy’s mother packed for him. Even if you can pick out a delicious homemade brownie from more than six feet away, how will you be able to trade your carrot sticks for it? Throwing the food item to be traded is the only option—and one frowned upon by school staff.
A fate similar to the cafeteria awaits the playground. It is a communal area which CDC would have closed.
Approved activities for P.E. will be a short list. Tag? No, you must stay six feet apart and cannot touch anyone. That’s boring. Red Rover? It’ll be a breeze for someone to come right over because there will be no hand-holding line of defense to break through. Dodge ball? You could stay six feet apart while playing, but it isn’t sanitary for the thrown ball to touch anyone else and possibly spread COVID-19. Guess everyone will end up running laps around the field—six feet apart of course. What fun!
Time spent in the hallways will be more limited because having a mass of humanity walking in a crowded narrow space is a social distancing nightmare. Hallway lockers are way too close together, so using them is out. Who’s up for carrying their sweaty P.E. clothes with them all day? Good thing everyone will have to wear a face mask; it can filter out some of the stink.
PDA will be DOA. Couples will not be able to hold hands, hug, or kiss in the hallways—well, unless they can do it from six feet plus apart. Blowing kisses it is. Or not. The virus is supposedly spread via respiratory droplets.
Transporting students to and from school via school bus will be a logistical challenge since the requisite 6 foot + social distancing must be kept. Two to a seat won’t fly, and there’ll be no standing in the aisles when a student could “accidentally” bump into someone on whom he had his eye.
The same number of students cannot be packed in as they were pre-pandemic. A bus which previously accommodated 65-77 students now could seat only 9-11, requiring multiple trips to transport all the students to and from school. Sanitizing buses after each trip means increased transportation time. The school day would be almost over by the time all the students arrived. The school board for Duval County, Florida has astutely recognized that implementing these guidelines is “impossible.”
Schools re-opening will be a welcome return to routine activity. The new normal in which this activity would be conducted, however, will be less welcome. Pre-pandemic school is out forever.
If you have school-age children, will you send them to school if you have the option of virtual classes? How safe do you think it is to send kids back to school even if the CDC guidelines are followed? Is implementing any or all of the CDC recommendations feasible?