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Six Feet in Schools just Will Not Work

May 2, 2020 pm31 4:13 pm

What will it take to reopen schools?

A vaccine and a cure?  that would mean a long time. We would have to do some real work on making remote learning more productive than it is now. There are definitely people who are thinking we will wait that long. Not me.

“Flatten the curve” – that was designed to avoid the crush of cases all at once, when the ERs or ICU beds, or doctors, or ventilators, etc, etc, could not keep up with demand. We flattened the curve somewhat, not enough, people died, many fewer than if we had done nothing. But we are past that, or passing that point, in NYC.

We will be, in the not distant future, ready to open with precautions. But what will those precautions be? And specifically in schools, are there enough precautions to be ok to open? Or will schools be an exception (among many exceptions)?

Masks – not a problem in the real world. Not a problem in schools.

Sick – stay home. The advice is right. And with those new-fangled thermometers they can at least check temperatures before someone comes in – to any building, including a school. But we should be mindful about the time this takes.

Testing – the tests need to be better – and yes, it makes sense to test everyone at the start of the year. Do we have enough tests? Are they good enough? I think the answer to both of those will be yes, but not today. By August.

Reaction Protocols when Covid-19 shows up at a school – there needs to a disinfecting protocol that is followed. Schools probably need to be shut (does 24 hours do it?) The entire school community needs to be notified. The UFT leadership needs to play an active role in enforcing notification, and protecting staff from entering a building if the DoE tries to ignore protocols. We cannot have a repeat of March.

Wash your hands – here’s a place where schools have some operational issues and some facilities issues. Are there enough sinks in the building? Is there a real soap replenishment cycle? And if there’s not enough sinks, can enough hand sanitizer stations be installed? Further, making these things available is probably not enough. How do we ensure that hands are being washed frequently enough? I’m not talking about monitors (gross) but about dedicated time to allow it to occur. And with distancing requirements, that might be a significant bit of time.

(The Department of Education should already be procuring the hand sanitizer stations. No doubt in my mind, they haven’t even thought of it).

Cover your cough – should be enforced through social pressure

Sanitize surfaces – that’s a change in how school cleaning is done, and how often. More staff? Different supplies?

No large gatherings. In the real world, some of this is obvious. Movie theaters? Sporting events (for spectators)? Broadway shows? Clubs? But do schools fall into this category?

Social distancing. That’s 6 feet. The elephant in the room is that you can’t get another elephant in there.

What does six feet look like in a school?  I’m going to discuss my school, 13 classrooms, 400 students. YMMV

Let’s consider, when it is not possible to maintain six feet, is the problem momentary, or longer?

Entering school. Perfectly lined up, single file, 6 feet between, that’s almost half a mile.  (There are other schools on the block – the single file line thing won’t work like that. Maybe a designated area in the parking lot with a 6 foot switchback line?

Lockers. OK, I can’t do this. Maybe no locker use?

Hallway. Our hall (singular) could handle one line in each direction. (that’s where the lockers are, but assume we don’t use them). I think we could work out a change of class routine, with momentary violations, but not for 400 students (our hallway gets crowded). I think the hall is 150 feet or so. Could we get a line (with some staging?) of 50 in each direction?  Maybe.

Classrooms. Ours are small. There is a range, but 22×24 I think is somewhere in there. We could just about squeeze 11 – 15 students in – but 10 might be more like it. Call that 130 students.

130 students would mean we violate social distancing minimums during class change. Even if we staggered the changes, we would have concentrations near doors leaving or entering.  And the time for changes would need to go from the current 3 minutes to maybe 10, to allow unbunched passing. Maybe more than 10. 15?

With those numbers, we could rotate, and see three groups of students, maybe three times every two weeks.

But wait, we have four grades? How could we run the classes that each kid needs at the right time?

I haven’t discussed art. or pe. lunch in the classrooms is fine for everyone who brings lunch. WIll there be school lunch?

Look, every building is a little different, but needing 3 independent sessions sounds about right. And 4 might be more manageable for 4 grades. And I’m not sure what good that does parents who need to work.

I don’t think there is a way to maintain 6 feet all day, but 6 as a guideline with momentary lapses might be possible.

But I didn’t discuss teaching. How do I check a kid’s work?  How does a teacher hand out a test?  How do we do a million little things that teachers do with students every day?

I noticed two bloggers attacked this with questions I like:  Arthur and Peter.

But here’s the reality:  there’s no way to run in-person school with the 6 foot guideline.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. shawn rubel permalink
    May 2, 2020 pm31 4:21 pm 4:21 pm

    1) if you wear glasses, masks all day are tough–I fog up all the time. but that can be worked around

    2) according to my principal. all hs principals had a meeting with the chancellor last monday and he thought it was 50-50 that we’d be back in our bldgs by sept

    • May 2, 2020 pm31 4:27 pm 4:27 pm

      If your eyesight’s not so bad (like mine) removing the glasses is an option. But that’s not for everybody. And the chancellor spent all week walking back the 50/50 comment. No head for math. When he said 50/50 he meant “I don’t know.”

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