On May 28 and June 4, EAB hosted more than 500 district leaders from across the nation for virtual sessions to discuss what K-12 leaders must address in their summer planning. If you weren’t able to join, we’ve distilled 10 key considerations to keep in mind when making critical district-level decisions around scheduling and logistics for next school year.
Unfamiliar schedules and blended learning likely through summer 2021
In spite of dauntingly detailed new state guidance, districts must plan for next year in the face of more unknowns than knowns. Considering a set number of fall scenarios can make logistics planning easier. But regardless of the scenario, new and unfamiliar schedules and multimodal or blended learning seem likely to remain constant through the 2020-2021 school year.
EAB researchers studied dozens of “return to learn” plans to identify district leaders’ most critical decisions and to advise rapid response teams how to safely reopen their buildings.
Calculate safe building capacity, but don’t overthink it
In determining how many people can safely enter schools and district administration offices under COVID-19 building protocols, district leaders should apply a formula based on information they currently have and plan from there. Early-opener insights reveal that calculating building capacity using a lower teacher to student ratio than normal can help keep maintain social distancing and minimize contact exposure.
10-15 students per teacher, per room
50% of full capacity
(## students + staff)*113
xx square feet
Repurpose instructional space creatively to maximize the number of students the district can safely host
District leaders should innovate when it comes to space utilization. Consider reassigning school campus spaces such as cafeterias, gymnasiums, and labs to allow for social distancing among students. And be sure not to overlook administrative buildings to allow for socially-distanced office spaces.
Also consider moving classes outdoors when possible. For instance, Denmark and Scotland are placing tents on school grounds, using stadiums and parking lots, and considering municipal parks for experiential high school courses.
Many districts are opting to contract the use of idled community spaces including performing arts centers, churches, and health clubs such as the local YMCA. Some districts are going beyond just leasing these spaces and employing these organizations’ displaced workers as school assistants.
Determine which students will return first based on your district’s remote instruction abilities and childcare needs
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Given limited capacity, many early openers in Europe prioritized certain groups of students to come back first. EAB has commonly heard of districts considering bringing back part-time students, the youngest students, or students with IEPs first, but there is not yet a clear frontrunner.
Districts with a high share of dual-income households where the digital divide isn’t a crisis can opt to bring younger students back face to face only, while some (likely secondary) students will be remote only. In those districts where the digital divide is alarming, leaders will need to alternate students between distance learning and face to face.
If opting for a part-time schedule, consider the right balance of four main priorities
Districts must evaluate four main priorities when considering a part-time schedule: health safety, childcare needs, instructional equity, and cost/complexity. EAB researchers graded several return strategies against these priorities—including split-day schedules, A/B Weeks, and A/B days. An A/B day model seems most promising in its reduced risk and balance of consistency, equity, and cost.
Create fallbacks for faculty and staff who choose not to return
Consider filling newly needed roles with medically vulnerable teachers who may not be ready to return to a classroom setting. Distance learning coaches, supplemental tutors, and family customer service support roles will all likely be increasingly necessary as alternative learning environments and instructional recovery efforts continue through next year.
Remote teachers can offer tailored services by coaching students during synchronous or asynchronous learning, providing 1:1 online tutoring, and answering family questions in real time. These teachers will be especially helpful in supporting the population of students who remain remote.
Minimize student traffic contact and preserve social distancing in common spaces
Evaluate which measures your district can implement to reduce common area traffic such as grade-specific entrances or building zones, staggered cafeteria meals and recess sessions, and one-way traffic in corridors.
Also consider ways to maintain social distancing with policies that eliminate the use of lockers, school supply sharing, and communal water fountains for example.
Reduce classroom transitions as much as possible
While logistically difficult, district leaders need to consider secondary school schedule modifications to reduce contact exposure. Three alternative models could help accomplish this:
- Teacher rotations: students remain in the same classroom, but their subject matter teachers rotate across rooms
- In-building livestreams: students remain in the same room with the same teacher all day; the same courses are taught live and livestreamed at the same hour, so all students are involved in synchronous learning
- Multiweek experiential electives: an idea originating at Colorado College that places students and teachers in the same room for three-to-four-week intensives that focus on a single subject at a time
Embrace low-tech, high frequency (yet cost-conscious) cleaning protocols
Deep cleans are costly and not overwhelmingly effective as they don’t have lasting impact. Instead, consider quick-win efforts that custodians, teachers, and even students can employ.
- Clean high traffic-area door handles twice during school day
- Mark floors with social distancing reminders
- Hourly hand washing breaks
- Sanitize hands when entering and exiting rooms
- Teach students to effectively wipe down digital devices
- Create social distancing etiquette words like “please” and “thank you”
Prepare to coordinate school-based point of care testing
In lieu of a vaccine, robust testing will be vital, and schools are likely to play a role. Israel has relied on parents, Germany has partnered with community businesses, and the US is betting on public-private partnerships.
Plan for various transportation scenarios
Ensuring social distancing on school buses will likely be difficult and expensive as it will greatly limit bus capacity. Purchasing more buses is cost prohibitive. And since many bus drivers are at an age putting them at risk of critical infection, widespread bus driver shortages may worsen.
District leaders can start with quick wins to mitigate transportation concerns, such as securing PPE for all drivers and surveying drivers now about their intent to return in the fall. Now is also the time to consider if buses will be where health screenings take place and to revisit K-12 ride-sharing options.
District reopening this fall may take numerous forms and will inevitably vary according to your community’s needs. However, across the board, effective reopening strategies will take into account many of the safe building protocols and equitable multimodal learning considerations described above.
For considerations on learning recovery and student and teacher mental health, stay tuned for our next blog post.
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