Vaught’s Note: Rita Rain has designed a tool for the Omni Calculator Project to help figure classroom spacing to keep students safe from the Coronavirus. It lets you check how many students will fit into one classroom, and how realistic it is to divide students into shifts. It takes into account different spacing modes (rectangular or triangular), and gives personalized results and tips for each class. How accurate is it? I don’t know but still thought the idea was worth sharing.
By RITA RAIN
Although the number of daily new cases of coronavirus in the USA hasn’t dropped under 20,000 for a while now, the debate about opening up schools is already a hot topic. After all, it’s a big challenge to have 56.6 million students return to schools without compromising their health. On June 3rd, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, hinted that schools might open in the fall, saying that keeping them closed “might be a bit of a reach.”
Currently, 48 states strongly recommend school closure until the end of the school year. Opening them back up in the fall raises a couple of concerns, the biggest of which is what precautions should schools take to make education both safe and effective.
One of the precautions suggested by CDC is to employ social distancing through limiting the number of students in each classroom, making sure they stay minimum six feet apart. Our classroom spacing calculator is designed to help verify how applicable this solution is for various classrooms. With our tool, you can easily check how many students will fit into one classroom, and how realistic it is to divide students into “shifts”.
How to use the classroom spacing calculator?
You can use our calculator to find out how many students will fit in a classroom of a predefined size, should they maintain the safe distance of sitting 6 feet apart. To do it, follow the steps outlined below:
1. Check how you want to arrange the desks – in a rectangular or a triangular grid. While a triangular grid may allow you to fit a few more students in, it’s more difficult to arrange without a measuring tape.
2. Modify the social distancing rule as required by your school – if the school wants children to sit more than 6 feet apart, you can change the default value in the calculator.
3. Input the number of students you usually have in one class.
4. Enter the dimensions of the seatable area – not of the whole room! Make sure to create a teacher zone, where the children won’t sit. The rest of the room will be the seatable area.
5. Finally, decide on the dimensions of the desks. Our calculator doesn’t take into consideration desk height, so you only need the length and width.
Once you input all that information, our calculator will tell you how many students you can fit in your classroom, and compare this number with the class size. If it’s lower than the class size, it means that the class will have to be broken down into smaller groups!
Safety and organizational concerns
According to the CDC, there are three possible modes of how schools will function in the fall. The low-risk
model assumes staying completely remote, and the high-risk model is equivalent to returning to normality with no additional precautions taken. What’s most likely to happen, though, is the third option – a blended model – where the number of students per classroom is limited, and schools create a so-called staggered schedule. Some groups have classes in the morning, some in the afternoon, and all are coupled with remote learning.
However, this staggered schedule model might be tricky to implement without a detailed plan in place! A good plan should address all common concerns, including:
1. One of the arguments for reopening schools is that children are in the low-risk group – when infected with COVID-19, they show mild or no symptoms. However, for this very reason, children are more likely to spread the disease to their teachers, parents, and elderly family members. A recent study conducted in China shows that keeping the schools closed has a substantial effect on reducing the spread of the pandemic.
2. Teachers will still have contact with multiple groups of students, which puts them at the highest risk. Teaching various groups means they will need to dedicate much more time to in-class teaching – on top of all other duties such as checking homework and grading tests.
3. A staggered schedule means that some children will have classes in the late afternoon, which will require the parents to stay at home with them and limit the parents’ ability to go back to work.
4. Even though the CDC recommendations specify that students shouldn’t share the same objects, such as pens or worksheets, they don’t explain how to go about social distancing during recess, on playgrounds, or in labs.
5. Another major concern is how to ensure distancing on school buses. The CDC recommends seating children one child per row or skipping rows, but this, together with the staggered schedule, will probably increase the number of buses, which is an additional cost.
What precautions can schools take?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a set of guidelines and precautions which should be considered regardless of the chosen model. These include:
— Proper hygiene – reinforcing frequent hand washing, providing soap and hand sanitizers, as well as having students use tissues is an absolute must and a baseline for all other recommendations.
— Covering faces – cloth masks might be difficult to introduce in classes, but are one of the top precautions that can be taken.
— Frequent disinfecting – especially in common areas. This means disinfecting tables, door handles, and frequently used equipment after each use.
— Daily health checks – such as temperature screenings, for both teachers and students.
— Providing clear information about proper behaviors – this includes encouraging parents to have their children stay at home in certain situations (for example, after recent contact with a person who tested positive).
— Outdoor classrooms – only if the weather is good, anyway. It’s much more difficult to transmit the virus in outdoor, open-air classrooms, while also giving the students the much-needed opportunity to spend time outside, breathe fresh air, and get some high-quality play time.
What can I do?
If you’re a parent, ask the school principal or administration about their plan for fall. Ask questions, express your concerns, and remember that the safety of both students and teachers must be taken into account. Don’t flood individual teachers with questions – remember that creating proper guidelines on the basis of state requirements is the duty of the school administration.
If you’re a teacher, make sure the administration is aware of the problems, and forward all parents to the principal. Require clear guidelines and training before you go back to in-class teaching, putting the safety of both yourself and the students as a priority.
If you’re a school principal or administrator, start planning. Try to learn as much as possible about the state and federal recommendations. Start a conversation with teachers and parents. In this case, it’s better to over communicate.
* * *
Here is a link to the tool: