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Thoughts on “opening” schools

3 min read

from the perspective of someone who has taught every grade from 7 through 12, in public, charter, and private (both religious and secular) schools.

 CLASSROOMS —  It is impossible in most schools to have 6 foot between students. Last year I had up to 30 seniors in a room at a time, with a social distance rarely even 2 feet between them. To get to 6 feet I would have to limit the number of students to around 10-12.  To even get to a 3 foot distance in between would probably require a doubling of the number of classrooms, even maximizing use (teachers floating into rooms where a teacher has a period off). Very few buildings have that kind of excess space. And even if you could get to 6 foot distance, how do students maintain that coming in and going out of the room without creating problems in the hallways?

HALLWAYS — in most schools, even if you limit when students transition between classes, how do you maintain proper social distance when you have hundreds of students in hallway? what about going to lockers, which are cheek to jowl?

CAFETERIAS —  most schools use just about every seat.  You have students in line to get food.  They are close together.  They sit very close with one another, and they will NOT be masked while they are eating.  How do you minimize those risks for students? What about for the cafeteria workers? Those restaurants that have opened have in general closed salad bars, buffets, precisely because of the risk of spread.  In theory everything could be bagged lunches but then there are dietary restrictions for health and religious reasons even beyond preference issues. And then where would students eat? 

BUSES — a large portion of students go to/from school by bus. Many of those buses are crowded, and do multiple routes. To maintain social distance on those buses would require at least doubling the number of buses for most school systems, an expense they cannot afford. And they would have real trouble getting the additional drivers. And many drives are are older (50+) and at greater risk.

STAFF — let’s just start with teachers. To limit the number of students in classes requires probably doubling the number of teachers, when in many states there is already a shortage of qualified teachers (very true in AZ for example). Where to schools and school systems get them? Where could they get the funds to pay them and provide benefits?  Remember that states and local governments are usually banned from running deficits, and those with rainy day funds are already draining them.


These are not ALL the issues that need to be addressed. But if we cannot address these, how can we require schools to run regular classes 5 days a week, even before we address the issue of the current explosion of the spread of the virus?

I do not expect to see most American schools returning to the kind of schedules we had before the pandemic anytime this calendar year. Absent a vaccine it is suicidal to attempt to do so. And given what  colleges are already doing, and what I think may happen even to US professional sports, I think we can forget about college sports for the Fall season — the conference in which my alma mater, Haverford Colllege, participates has already canceled all fall competitions.

We are still very much in crisis in this country, and what is coming out from the administration about this process only makes things worse.

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