How will schools reopen safely in fall 2020?

Districts might have to hire more teachers to avoid reducing instruction time in the fall
By: | April 22, 2020
Planning for schools to reopen in fall 2020, education leaders are considering staggering class schedules, reconfiguring classrooms, longer school days and continued online learn to allow for social distancing. (HRAUN/GettyImages.com)Planning for schools to reopen in fall 2020, education leaders are considering staggering class schedules, reconfiguring classrooms, longer school days and continued online learn to allow for social distancing. (HRAUN/GettyImages.com)

While many officials expect public schools to reopen in the fall, K-12 education even then may not return to “normal.”

Schools in Denmark, which last week became the first system in Europe to reopen, may provide a glimpse at what U.S. classrooms might look like when students return.

At one school, students sat at desks placed six feet apart, washed their hands once an hour and could only play in small groups during recess, The New York Times reported.

Teachers were not allowed to gather in staff rooms and parents had to stay outside, according to The New York Times. 


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“It is a new world,” Tanja Linnet, a head teacher, told The New York Times. “We used to make plans for if there was a terrorist attack here—but never this kind of attack.”

While opening schools should help economies because parents can return their focus to work, world health officials are still cautioning countries from trying to reopen before the coronavirus is under control, according to The New York Times.

Fall 2020: Staggered classes, longer days

With most districts having shifted to online learning, superintendents and their teams are planning the 2020-21 school year.

In California, education officials are considering “reconfigured classrooms,” staggered class schedules and a continuation of online learning to permit social distancing, The Mercury News reported.


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Palo Alto USD Superintendent Don Austin told the Mercury News that he hopes the coronavirus experience will increase community support for year-round schools, morning and afternoon school shifts, and a combination of online and in-person instruction.

“I think the problem-solving, the brainstorming around summer, fall and beyond has not been radical enough and I think that people are still trying to make things fit the paradigm they’re used to,” Austin told The Mercury News.

Eric Gordon, chief executive officer of the Cleveland Metropolitan Schools District, thinks school can reopen in the fall, he told Cleveland.com. 

Districts could stagger school days or extend hours to reduce class sizes to keep students and teachers six feet apart, Gordon told Cleveland.com.

But districts would have to hire more teachers to avoid reducing instruction time. “We couldn’t suddenly triple the size of the workforce, and even if we did we did couldn’t triple the size of the building,” Gordon told Cleveland.com.

Planning for disruptions after schools reopen

In Arizona’s Vail School District, leaders looking toward fall 2020 also say social distancing could be maintained by staggering schedules and combining in-person instruction and livestreaming classes to students at home, according to the This is Tuscon/Arizona Daily Star.


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Staggering schedules, however, would require state lawmakers to change a law that bases school funding on in-person enrollment during the first 100 days of the school year, according to This is Tuscon/Arizona Daily Star.

In Nebraska, Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt has assembled a team of 24 superintendents to begin developing a “safety net” for the fall, the Lincoln-Journal Star reported.

The team is planning for normal instruction, continued online learning and all possibilities in between, including further disruptions after students return to school if there are coronavirus outbreaks in individual communities, according to the Lincoln-Journal Star.

“I hope we don’t have a lot of disruptions, but signs are that it’s a possibility,” Blomstedt told the Lincoln-Journal Star.


DA’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on K-12.