Planning for the Safe Reopening of Schools

Figuring Out the Puzzle

• Confirm Social Distancing Requirements
• Analyze the Existing Facilities
• Determine the Right Strategy
• Develop a Plan for Implementation

Each school is as unique as the students that they teach. They are a collection of spaces that serve their student population and provide a place for their faculty and staff to do their jobs. Most importantly, the facilities support and sometimes even define the culture of the school. In the short term, schools are trying to maintain their culture in the absence of classrooms through remote learning. In the future, when students return to the schools, each school will have to find a way to accommodate the social distancing requirements while also supporting the school culture and facilitating learning successfully. Schools must differentiate themselves and show their students and parents that they have it figured out. Since each school is unique, their solution to this puzzle will also be specific to their physical environment.

Case Study | Here is an example of how one school might approach the problem. Many independent day schools have programs from Pre-K through 8th grade. Most classrooms are designed to accommodate long-standing standards such as 20 students per classroom of 900 SF, or a space approximately 30’ x 30’. A typical grade is composed of 36 +/- students with two classrooms of 18 students. Our Case Study school followed this standard model.

Social Distancing Requirements | To satisfy the current requirements of the social distancing guidelines, we assume that each student must maintain 6’ separation and that no more than 10 people should be gathered in one space. When these guidelines are applied to a classroom, we have a general rule of 9 students and 1 teacher per classroom. 9 students would require a space of 18’x18’, providing each student with a 6’ square of space.

The Numbers | The first exercise is to evaluate the student population and approximate the number of classrooms needed. In the case of this school, there are approximately 324 students over 10 grades from Pre-K to Eighth Grade. Each grade typically had 2 classrooms. In order to accommodate all of the students in the school with social distancing guidelines, the number of classrooms would almost need to double.

Think Differently | Finding additional space for classrooms may prove difficult. It then becomes vital to carefully rethink how to structure the school day, exploring every possible option.

For example;
Teachers may move from classroom to classroom
reducing student-to-student contact in the halls and limiting the number of spaces each student comes into contact with.

Homerooms can be relocated to Subject Specific classrooms
such as Science and Art classrooms

Large underutilized spaces can be repurposed to be homerooms
it is unlikely that a cafeteria will be used for large gatherings, as lunches can be safely delivered to the students in their respective homerooms. This creates an opportunity to use these types of spaces to house a student homeroom.

Using strategies such as these, schools will be able to accommodate all students in reduced classroom sizes. By assigning the spaces carefully, adjacency is maintained with the other homeroom classrooms of that grade.

Circulation | Careful thought needs to be given to how the students arrive and leave every day, as these are often the times of congestion. Ideally, if a classroom has exterior access, that will be used on a daily basis, limiting student-to-student interaction to those in their homeroom class only. Exterior doors and routes to classrooms can be studied to maximize one-way travel or dedicated routes per grade or class if exterior access is not available.

New ways to Teach + Learn  | While reducing the classroom size and separating the students is not the ideal way to foster community + collaboration, it is a method to allow the students to return to school during these unusual times. It is also interesting to note that there is a precedent for BLENDED LEARNING, whereby in-person, campus-based learning is combined with online learning. Adopting this as a strategy to supplement the educational experience within the classrooms will give the schools future flexibility to react to changing circumstances.

Space + Time  | Some schools may not have enough square footage to accomplish the smaller class size strategies previously noted, and may need to combine scheduling staggered attendance times as a means to reduce class sizes.

Unique Solutions | No two schools are alike, and each will require approaches tailored to suit their individual needs. It takes careful planning and creative thinking to find the best way to solve each school’s social distancing puzzle.

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