How are schools enforcing social distancing measures?
While so much is uncertain about the Covid-19 pandemic, one certainty is that school life will not be able to return to what it was before the closure of schools in Australia. Most schools have reopened, but many are still struggling to figure out how to enforce social distancing measures with minimal disruptions to students.
Part of the difficulties of implementing social distancing measures across schools is that there is no one size fits all model. There are many factors that need to be taken into account, like the size of the student body, the physical size of the school, whether there are outdoor spaces, how many students per class, and much more. Schools no longer only have to prioritise ensuring their students receive a quality education, they now need to do this within very strict parameters while prioritising health and wellbeing.
Not only do schools need to consider how they can deliver classes while maintaining social distancing if a classroom would usually be at capacity, but also how to stop students from touching each other, enforcing hygiene measures, and figuring out how to manage things like school sport. Below is by no means an extensive list of the ways that schools can implement social distancing measures. These ideas centre on timetabling, and seem to be a popular way forward for many Australian schools.
Reducing Class Sizes
Making classes smaller is a simple way to reduce the number of students in a room at any one time. However, in many cases, this isn’t always easy to achieve. For most schools, a cap of 15 (for example) would mean that only half of the school population can attend at any one time. Many schools are overcoming this by splitting the school into small groups to attend at different times (whether that be different times of the day or different days). There are quite a few complications that come with doing this, and it is certainly easier for primary school and middle school-aged students than it is for high school students. On the positive side, Covid-19 lockdowns have already laid the groundwork in preparing students to learn from home, and most households now have measures in place to make this possible. Some students even seem to prefer learning from home. However, schools understand that this is not a viable longterm option and need to figure out how they can split their student population into at least two groups in order to facilitate productive face to face learning again.
Year Level Split
One possibility to reduce the number of students at school at any one time is to split the year levels into two halves. Some schools are looking at ways to introduce a split like this, while still allowing friendship groups to stay together, and some are even using this option to reduce instances of bullying. A divide such as this proves more difficult for the senior high school years because students have much more freedom of choice in what they study, so maintaining consistently even groups is hard. Not to mention, teaching capacities are limited, and teachers are being forced to quickly adapt to teaching new subjects or different year levels to accommodate for the changed timetables.
Alternate Week Split
Once schools have figured out how to split the population into two even groups, they need to decide how face to face teaching time will be allocated across the groups. One way to do this is an alternative week split where the first group attends school for one week, then the second group attends in alternating weeks. In this model, each group has one full week at school each fortnight, while the other week is spent working from home. This is an attractive option because the groundwork for working at home has already been implemented during the lockdown, and this model seems to have the least disruptions to students, allowing some normalcy and consistency during each week.
School Day Split
Another way to reduce class sizes via a split population is splitting the day into two halves. In this case, the first population would attend in the morning and the second in the afternoon. Each group would work from home for the other part of the day. This approach has been met with less support as many believe the disruptions in the middle of the day make it less possible to cover all school work. It is much harder for students to regain focus if they have to change their physical location in the middle of the day. In addition, parents struggle to adjust their work schedules to this kind of timetable. Not to mention, public transport such as school buses tends to run at specific times, and it causes significant issues when these need to be adjusted – or sometimes they can’t be adjusted at all. Such disadvantages lead some to believe that one group is unfairly advantaged over the other, and this doesn’t seem to be a model that is being taken up at many Australian schools.
Alternate Day Split
The last option is an alternate day split where the two populations attend school on alternate days. The obvious problem with this model is that there are 5 days in a school week. One example of how this would look is the first population would attend on Monday and Tuesday, and the second on Thursday and Friday. Wednesday would be split into two as in the school day split model. While this does seem to combine the above two options and allows for less time away from the school, it still poses some difficulties on a split day in terms of logistics for families and transportation.
There doesn’t seem to be a single approach that will work well for every school, and schools are going to have to work out what works best for their students and families. However, it is likely that timetabling alternatives are the way forward to managing social distancing measures within Australian schools.