School districts across the country are being tasked with opening their campuses safely. Social distancing is a big part of that, but limited spacing at schools and a lack of available teachers is making that difficult.
"We are also having our students wear masks, as well, to keep our students and our staff healthy. I worked with superintendents across the state to compare plans and what they're following. Most of us are trying to keep that three foot distancing facing forward when possible and six foot distancing when we can, as well," said Jonathon Cooper, the Superintendent of Mason City Schools in Ohio.
Cooper said each level of his district's plan aligns with the levels of coronavirus cases in their community. For example, if COVID-19 levels rise to a certain level, the district will move to having students in class only a couple days a week.
"The way that it is structured, is it’s every other day and so it creates consistency for our families and it allows our teachers to have 50% of the class in person that they can concentrate on, get them set up for the next day while the other 50% of their class comes in. It allows them to spread out in their classroom," Cooper explained.
Many public school districts say they're dealing with reduced budgets, so hiring new teachers to ensure smaller class sizes is not a possibility. Plus, a lot of educators say even if they could hire teachers right now, there are not enough qualified candidates.
"This COVID-19 health crisis has really exposed inequities in many of our public institutions and definitely in our education system and it shows the reason why we don’t have that pool of new up and coming educators," said Manuel Bonilla, the president of the Fresno Teachers Association in California.
"We see it in all the documents from federal to state to local, that physical distancing is one of the things that needs to take place and we just don’t have the manpower to do so with teacher shortage," Bonilla said.
He adds that many of the roughly 4,000 teachers in his city don't even feel comfortable taking on face-to-face learning in the classroom this fall.
"When you just take a look at the CDC guidelines, the state guidelines and the local guidelines as to what you need in order to return safely in a classroom, physical setting, we know that by the start of school date we just can't do that," Bonilla said.
And if teachers get sick, it may be hard or unsafe to find replacements. Bonilla is concerned with the availability and willingness of substitute teachers during this time.
"See and that’s one of the points in regards to substitute teachers and the physical reopening of schools. When you take a look at the qualifications of quarantine and the subs moving from place to place and it's by the nature of their position they might be in different areas or causing that unsafe atmosphere just because there will be different contact points," says Bonilla.
Districts are also worried that any lack of protections for teachers could further impact a teacher shortage.
Back in Ohio, Cooper said, "We're also losing funding really quickly from our state. We’ve lost $4.2 million in the last four months. So when you’re losing money, you’re doing these amazingly new strategies to keep everybody safe and things we’ve never done before so we’re writing the script as we go,"
The superintendent adds that many education administrators nationwide are leaning on each other now more than ever to make the right decisions when it comes to reopening schools this fall.