How teachers are returning to schools in some districts

'For the most part, it's going to be like a one-room schoolhouse,' one superintendent says
By: | May 29, 2020
A Gwinnett County Public Schools bus driver who deliver meals while classrooms were closed shows off thank you cards she received from students.A Gwinnett County Public Schools bus driver who deliver meals while classrooms were closed shows off thank you cards she received from students.

District leaders who have invited teachers back into their buildings to close out the school year have made detailed plans to reassure employees about the coronavirus risk.

In South Carolina’s Dorchester School District Two, teachers are returning in separate morning and afternoon shifts to finalize grades and pack up their classrooms over the next two weeks.

Doors are propped open to eliminate high-touch points and new sanitization stations have been installed throughout buildings. Everyone who enters must sign in and out so district officials know who was in a school if someone falls ill and potentially exposes others to COVID-19.

“There are no face-to-face staff or faculty meetings,” Assistant Superintendent Julie Kornahrens says. “We have discouraged anybody from congregating.”


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The district is also providing masks to teachers who don’t bring them from home. Custodians are deep cleaning buildings between the morning and afternoon shifts while maintenance staff is checking HVAC systems regularly to monitor whether buildings are being ventilated properly.

These procedures were developed by an administrative team that included school nurses, Kornahrens says.

“We want to put teachers and other staff members at ease that we have gone to almost every length of to try to put protocols in place to ensure we were not opening until we felt like it was safe,” she says.

Where some staff never left

In Georgia’s largest district, Gwinnett County Public Schools near Atlanta, teams comprising a principal, administrative assistant, head custodian and bookkeeper have remained in each building throughout the pandemic.

Gwinnett County Public Schools media specialists offer two new books to a student as part of the district's Books 2 Kids program that will run throughout the summer to encourage reading at home.

Gwinnett County Public Schools media specialists offer two new books to a student as part of the district’s Books 2 Kids program that will run throughout the summer to encourage reading at home.

“We had somebody at every school to provide support for our teachers,” Superintendent and CEO J. Alvin Wilbanks says. “They could call in if they needed to come by and pick something up.”

Wilbanks and other top administrators have also been reporting to the central office throughout the outbreak. Some central office staffers are rotating the days they come in to reduce the number of people in the headquarters any one time.

Everyone is wearing masks when they leave their offices and in-person meetings have been held in a large lecture hall to allow for social distancing. But no staff members have been required to report in if they have pre-existing medical conditions or similar concerns, Wilbanks says.


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Since mid-May, teachers who are able to have been returning to buildings to finalize grades and turn in other supplies. If health guidelines allow, Wilbanks plans to bring teachers back a week before the first day of school, which is scheduled for Aug. 5.

How teachers are looking ahead

In Indiana’s Culver Community Schools Corporation, a small staff means hallways are big enough to provide for social distancing, Superintendent Karen Shuman says.

This week, teachers have returned to schools to finalize the year survey parents by phone. Families are being asked about online classes, whether they prefer in-person or e-learning next school year and whether they will let their children ride buses.

While most teachers are coming in between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., staff with health concerns are allowed to enter outside those hours, when fewer people are in buildings, Shuman says.

“We’re closing up classrooms so we can sanitize and set up for next school year to meet social distancing guidelines,” she says.


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Yellow lines and six-foot hash marks will be placed in hallways so students and staff can pass through at safe distances from each other. Desks will be moved six feet apart and new hand sanitizing stations will be installed throughout schools.

Students who return to buildings will likely be grouped by academic needs and spend the day together while they receive online assignments and teachers rotate in, Shuman says.

“For the most part, it’s going to be like a one-room schoolhouse,” she says. “We’re going to contain and track students throughout the day so we know who has come in contact with who, in case we have a positive case.”


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