How will social distancing work at school?

Coast schools consider how to implement social distancing

GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - Social distancing in the classroom is a puzzle school districts are working to solve.

Districts across the Coast and across the country are comparing notes and sharing ideas on how to meed CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus.

The biggest problem may actually be getting students to and from school.

“The biggest issue we have is transportation, keeping social distancing on that school bus,” said Gulfport School Superintendent Glenn East. “That is the nut we have not cracked.”

East explained that only having one student in each seat will mean at least doubling the amount of time it will take to get students to school.

Once they get there, there are several ideas being considered.

It starts with smaller class sizes and students not changing classrooms. East said that if they can keep a maximum of 20 students in a classroom, spread out, they can make it work. If they have to go to a 15-student classroom, it will be more challenging.

Some districts are looking at alternating a week in the school with a week of virtual learning so they can rotate students through and everybody gets an equal amount of classroom time. East said they are considering an every-other-day model.

“Where we’re really leaning is we want our kindergarteners to second or third, depending on our space, to be in our buildings every day, and our fourth through 12th graders - I think if we had to follow the considerations for the CDC today - we would probably go to a one-on, one-off where they are in class one day and at home virtually the next day," East said.

Because different age students have different needs, the solutions may be different. East said teaching students to read in a virtual classroom session or if the teacher is wearing a mask is difficult.

“We would probably lean to having children wear masks, but again our biggest issue right now is how do you teach children to read without seeing the lips, the tongue thrust, those things they need to do to form their sounds," East said.

The district’s robotics team is making face shields that could help alleviate that problem, he said.

East also said they could split the class into two, with the teacher spending classroom time with half the students while the others watch via video under the supervision of a teacher assistant.

East said the state department of education is allowing each school district to come up with plans that are best for them.

“They’re really giving the local schools and the local school boards the chance to make some decisions to benefit their situation, as long as we’re following the CDC considerations,” he said.

Plans for social distancing in schools will likely evolve as CDC guidelines change.

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