Social Distancing in the Classroom-June 3, 2020 Recap

Article | 10.07.2020

By Carl Baxmeyer, AICP, Manager of Planning

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By George Kacan, Education Sector Leader, Wightman 
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The most recent Wednesdays With Wightman Town Hall focused on the issue of Social Distancing in the classroom. While the timing and specifics of reopening schools are being formulated, keeping students safe is the primary need. Carl Baxmeyer, Manager, Planning, facilitated the session. He pointed out in the three phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, as defined by Heidi Hayes Jacobs, we are migrating from the initial Triage phase and entering the Transition phase. During this phase, the discussion centered around the issues of social distancing when schools reopen for the 2020-2021 academic year. The town hall meeting is an opportunity to explore challenges and opportunities as we look ahead to the "new normal."

Moderated by Dr. Thomas Langdon, a part-time Superintendent for Walkerville Schools and an educational consultant for Wightman, the session featured a panel discussion. The panel included Mr. Greg Helmer, Superintendent of Ravenna Schools, Dr. Christina Counts, VP of Development, and Mr. Kevin Ecarius, VP of Sales, both of the MiEN Company, an organization focused of school furniture, research, and design.

The panel discussion explored the following CDC recommendations:

  • Modified Classroom and Seating Layouts
    • Space seating/desks at least 6 feet apart when feasible.
    • Turn desks to face in the same direction (rather than facing each other), or have students sit on only one side of tables, spaced apart.
    • Create distance between children on school buses (e.g., seat children one child per row, skip rows) when possible.
  • Physical Barriers and Guides
    • Install physical barriers, such as sneeze guards and partitions, particularly in areas where it is difficult for individuals to remain at least 6 feet apart (e.g., reception desks).
    • Provide physical guides, such as tape on floors or sidewalks and signs on walls, to ensure that staff and children remain at least 6 feet apart in lines and at other times (e.g., guides for creating "one-way routes" in hallways).
  • Communal Spaces
    • Close communal use shared spaces such as dining halls and playgrounds with shared playground equipment if possible; otherwise, stagger use and clean and disinfect between use.
    • Add physical barriers, such as flexible plastic screens, between bathroom sinks, especially when they cannot be at least 6 feet apart.

The discussion moved to break-out rooms to explore challenges and opportunities with the CDC guidelines and the reality of children's behavior; after all, we are all human. We posed the following question to each break-out room, "What are the opportunities and challenges associated with implementing social distancing in the classroom and school buildings?"

Break-out Room #1 identified the following challenges and opportunities.

  • Challenges
    • Some rooms in older buildings are not big enough to maintain distancing
    • Both local and national viewpoint
    • Some parents might choose not to send their children
    • Students should not be in the same room all day; Need to move; Have access to out of doors
  • Technology – Equity
    • How do we reach students in homes without high-speed access
    • Perhaps Covid-19 is around for days, weeks, or months
    • What will the state requirements look like; will they cooperate with funding
    • Flexibility in counting students – parents may make different choices over the course of the year
  • 1:1 device access limited to one per family, need one per student
    • Having governmental authorities relax certification requirements
  • Opportunity
    • Could the cafeteria, gym, or media center space be leveraged to maintain distancing
    • Some parents might choose not to send their children; Resulting in smaller class sizes
    • Work with state and local governments

Break-out Room #2 identified the following challenges and opportunities.

  • Challenges
    • Social distancing for younger students
    • Area of the classroom is there enough, move furniture
    • Potential blended model, difficult on families
    • Concerned about creating divisions, how do we support a learning environment
    • Personal touch with interacting with students, how to build trust,
    • Physical distancing vs. social distancing
    • Increasing barriers vs. removing barriers to providing access to a quality education
    • Moving Target, multiple committees' coordination,, resource
    • Transportation
    • How to deal with various age groups
    • Remote ability to flip a switch
    • 20 % of teachers may not return
  • Opportunities
    • New furniture equipped with casters, flexible furniture, seating
    • Teach in a different way, new instructional strategies
    • Using other areas of the school in a new way
    • Recognizing how students learn, become more adaptive to the individual learner

Break-out Room #3 identified the following challenges and opportunities.

  • Challenges
    • Space and size of actual classrooms for all school districts throughout the country, not all are the same
    • A hybrid approach may compensate for a shortage of space: then how are students divide, in half, thirds, etc.
  • Innovation Teams of staff, parents, principals, superintendents, etc. with differing needs to prepare plans for a return to school
    • Smaller class sizes with the same number of teachers
      • Team teaching concept in larger classrooms
      • Removing walls to expand space
      • Cafeterias, auditoriums,
    • Relaxation of certifications for teachers
    • Time – busing issues, seat time waivers
    • Available resources
    • alternatives to provide physical barriers between students
    • what to do with food service
    • student transportation and utilization of school buses, capacity
  • Opportunities
  • Expand transparency and independent learning – blended learning environment; digital learning through technology
  • Community input/involvement – 300+ attendees, overwhelmingly want in-person instruction
  • In-person instruction w/safety precautions
  • in-person instruction w/ social distancing
  • virtual/distance learning
  • 100% virtual if mandated to close
  • Space – utilizing unused space, looking at all options
  • If State relaxes certification requirements, parents indicated they would support using specials teachers to teach core subjects

The discussion ended with Carl providing a wrap-up of the key points made during the town hall meeting. He stated that the Wednesdays With Wightman series would occur every two weeks, with the next session being on June 17th, 2020.

The focus of the next Wednesdays With Wightman Town Hall meeting will focus be on "CDC Return To School Guidelines."

To attend the next town hall, sign up here.

Here is a recording of the session.