COVID-19 has disrupted our world this year. In March, April, and May of the 2020 school year, many students used virtual learning to continue their education throughout the quarantine. But as we head into this next school year, there are many unknowns about how to proceed in the field of education. To complicate matters, school districts are being given two very tough challenges to deal with this upcoming 2020-21 school year:
1.) Class sizes are supposed to be smaller to encourage social distancing.
2.) Many states are drastically slashing school budgets causing districts to cut teaching positions.
So, what will school districts do in this complicated situation? How can districts keep class sizes smaller with fewer resources? This is definitely an issue many districts are discussing all over the nation as they make plans to open schools in the next few months. Small class size could prove to be the solution we are looking for.
The CDC has published guiding principles for the opening of schools in the fall. (For all of the details, check out their website.) Although the CDC doesn’t require the implementation of these guidelines, it is highly encouraged that they do as much as they can to ensure the safety of the students, staff, and community members.
Of course, the safest recommendation from the CDC is to keep students at home for virtual learning. However, many districts are opting to return students to their physical school buildings next year.
1.) For in-school instruction, the CDC recommends the following:
Groups of students stay together with the same teacher throughout the school day and groups do not mix.
2.) Space desks at least 6 feet apart when feasible.
Turn desks to face in the same direction (rather than facing each other), or have students sit on only one side of tables, spaced apart.
These recommendations might seem reasonable to some people, but for most teachers and administrators, they can seem overwhelming. Many classes were already filled to the limit with 25 students (or more) crammed into small classrooms. The idea of spacing these students out would require an enormous amount of classroom space that simply doesn’t exist.
While districts can’t expand the walls of each classroom, they can place fewer students in each classroom. Instead of 30 students packed in like sardines, 15 students might be able to have enough room to social distance. But is this even possible?
In an ideal world, yes. But in our current educational system, there most likely aren’t enough resources to make this happen.
COVID has made a devastating impact on state budgets. Many states are struggling to cover costs of unemployment benefits, social services, and more. In order to balance state budgets, several states have drastically cut school funding.
The state of Ohio has cut $300 million in school funding so far with more cuts likely to come in a few months. Georgia has a proposal to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in school funding. California, Indiana, and numerous other states are battling budget disputes that will greatly impact school funding.
In the time of COVID, the budget decisions are even more difficult to face. Districts are letting go of teachers and staff at a time when more teachers are needed than ever before. Hiring freezes are in effect, and more jobs are likely to be cut before the school year begins.
It is one of the ever-present challenges in education: do more with less.
While there is no easy fix for creating smaller class sizes during a time of extreme budget cuts, there are some things districts can consider:
It’s not ideal in many communities to use online learning, but some communities can consider this option. A class size of one is the safest option that exists. However, logistically this can be very tough to implement for both students and staff. There are childcare issues and social concerns. Technology isn’t always reliable. And students and staff lack a connection that they just don’t get unless they are face-to-face.
If students go to school for half-days or every other day, then class sizes can be cut in half. A classroom of 30 students becomes 15 students every other day (or morning and afternoon.) This solves the class size problem and allows more room for social distancing. No additional teachers need hired. However, this could be a logistical nightmare for districts and families. Bussing would be complicated. Childcare for working families would be tough as well.
Unfortunately, many schools will have to face this option: send the kids to school, cut as much as humanly possible, and try to spread the students out as best as they can. For this option, any additional expense would be vulnerable. Sports, extracurricular activities, support staff, administrators, technology coordinators, librarians, custodians, and more could all be on the chopping block. All funds would be used to hire teachers to lower class sizes. This wouldn’t be ideal, but schools are stretched to the limit and are trying to stay afloat in this difficult time.
As society is facing unprecedented challenges, schools are struggling severely as well. Even with lower budgets, schools will do their best to create safe, caring environments for their students. It is what schools have done for decades. Teachers will give their all to keep students safe and help them succeed. This year, however, it will be a lot more difficult than ever before.