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A proposed idea for a schedule to start the 2020-2021 school year

The start of the 2020-2021 school year will be unique. The most drastic change will be in how the educational delivery system must adapt to meet the safety requirements stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Short of a vaccine, it appears that social distancing is the best option for stopping the spread of this disease. According to the CDC, “Limiting face-to-face contact with others is the best way to reduce the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).” Additionally, the CDC details three components of social distancing. First, stay at least 6 feet from other people. Second, do not gather in groups. Third, stay out of crowded places and avoid mass gatherings. Sadly, those three components are exactly what the public education system is not. From getting on the bus in the AM, attending class, eating lunch, and participating in after-school events, students are near one another, are in groups, and attend mass gatherings. In short, the typical school system does not have any social distancing elements. So, how to move forward?

Because changes are inevitable for the start of the 2020-2021 school year, all those involved must be flexible. Sacrifices will need to be made by all and that no one will be completely satisfied. Unfortunately, when changes are made within education, the brunt of the work falls typically falls on the teachers. However, there will also be a fair share of work to be done by the administration, office and custodial staff, School Boards, and parents. Everyone will need to be involved, willing to forgo past practices, and make tough decisions based on the health, safety, and education needs of our students.

In my opinion, the new school model must maximize the number of times teachers are safely spending with their students. It has been shown that the biggest influence on student achievement is the relationship between the teacher and the student. Relationships are built and strengthened through personal interactions. So, we must create a schedule that allows for this to occur while still maintaining the components of social distancing.

I propose using the ½ day Kindergarten model for all students. The Kindergarten ½ day model creates an AM class and a PM class. We could do this for all students. In the elementary buildings, we would take a traditional class size of 24 and create a 12 student AM section and a 12 student PM section. This would allow for the classroom to be modified so that students remain 6 feet apart. Foodservice would be provided within classrooms and recess would have to rotate to keep large groups from forming. This allows students to interact with their teachers daily. Additionally, with smaller class sizes, teachers would have the ability to accelerate learning to make up for the missed educational time from the ½ day schedule. The biggest challenge with the schedule is how to provide daycare services for those students whose parents work. Most school districts currently have daycare facilities. To improve the capacity of these facilities and to promote new facilities, our federal/state government would need to offer grants and 0% loans so that daycares could operate and parents would only pay according to what they could afford. At the middle/high school level, daycare is not as much an issue. However, the ½ day schedule creates issues with teacher certification. At the elementary level, teachers are licensed to teach all subject areas. However, that is not the case at the middle/high school where teachers hold subject-specific credentials. This would create a scheduling nightmare for the administration. To ease that issue, I suggest very limited course options that would allow for a schedule to be successfully created. Additionally, the State education entity might need to temporarily ease certification credentials to assist districts in this endeavor. The last challenge I see affects both the elementary and secondary levels, transportation. The ½ day model, while essentially cutting in half the amount of students on a bus at one time, will dramatically increase the cost to the district. Once again, the federal/state government would need to intervene to provide financial relief to districts.

While not perfect, the ½ day model maximizes daily student/teacher time with each other, while maintaining social distancing protocols. It will take everyone involved to make tremendous sacrifices. We are entering uncharted waters with the start of the 2020-2021 school year and need to prioritize what is most important for our students. I argue that is students and their teachers interacting daily.

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© 2019 by Erik Bentzel. 

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