American schools may look radically different as they reopen

FILE - This Thursday, March 12, 2020 shows Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco. Staggered start times. Classes cut in half. Social distancing in the hallways and cafeteria. Classes on, then off again. These are just a few of the possible scenarios for California schools after  California Gov. Gavin Newsom laid out a roadmap for reopening the state amid the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu,File)
FILE - This Thursday, March 12, 2020 shows Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco. Staggered start times. Classes cut in half. Social distancing in the hallways and cafeteria. Classes on, then off again. These are just a few of the possible scenarios for California schools after California Gov. Gavin Newsom laid out a roadmap for reopening the state amid the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu,File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

SAN FRANCISCO – School administrators across America are trying to re-imagine classrooms — and the prospect of reopening schools — in the era of social distancing.

Will there be staggered start times? Will students be asked to wear face coverings? Will class sizes be cut in half? What about school assemblies and sports and school buses and lunchtime?

With the majority of schools nationwide shut down, educators are scrambling to plan for the future after a chaotic few weeks that, for many districts, included closing all schools, deciding whether to waive assessment tests and whether and how to do distance learning. Next comes the important question of when schools can safely re-open.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom laid out a few possible scenarios this week for reopening the state’s public schools to 6 million students, saying the timeline was still unclear but when students do eventually return things will look radically different.

“We need to get our kids back to school,” Newsom said. “And we need to do it in a safe way.”

The biggest challenge for schools is how to continue physical distancing among children and adults to ensure that “kids aren’t going to school, getting infected and then infecting grandma and grandpa,” Newsom said.

That could mean requiring schools to stagger schedules, with some students arriving in the morning and the rest in the afternoon. Officials will be rethinking gym class, recess, school assemblies and all scenarios where students gather in large groups, he said. State officials, educators and unions will discuss those ideas and other possibilities for safe schooling in the coming weeks and months.

Robert Hull, president and chief executive of the National Association of State Boards of Education, said administrators across the country are asking not how, but if, schools will reopen in the fall, and planning for any number of scenarios.