Desks are spaced 6 feet apart, temperature checks are routine and students lunch together in small groups.
This overhaul of the traditional school day has become reality in the last two weeks, as schools in Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and Indiana opened their doors for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic abruptly shuttered classrooms across the United States – all while the virus remains largely uncontrolled.
Here’s what we’ve learned from the schools that have already reopened, as most US schools prepare for their own first day of classes.
More students and teachers are testing positive for Covid-19
Over the last four weeks, there has been a 90% increase in the number of Covid-19 cases among children in the United States, according to a recent analysis by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association
Several clusters of coronavirus cases emerged in Florida, Georgia and Mississippi schools within days of starting classes.
While most of the nation’s largest school systems are planning to start the school year completely online, some educators welcomed students back to campus full-time or at least part-time.
North Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia, attracted national attention after a student posted a photo on Twitter showing a crowded school hallway with few visible face masks.
“We could have just delayed opening like many other schools,” the student, Hannah Watters, told CNN last week. “They kind of sent us to school and used us as guinea pigs to see what would happen later on.”
The high school closed for cleaning after six students and three staff members tested positive for Covid-19. As of Wednesday, at least 35 cases had been reported.
School districts in several states, including Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Missisippi and Oklahoma directed students, teachers and staff members to quarantine following reports of at least 230 cases of Covid-19 linked to their institutions, according to a CNN tally.
Dr. Thomas Dobbs, Mississippi’s health director, said earlier this week that at least 22 schools in the state reported Covid-19 cases among students and staff members since classes began.
Some schools were forced to suddenly change plans
Fears of coronavirus infection among tens of thousands of students and teachers in multiple states is pushing officials to switch to a full or partial schedule of online classes.
Students at the North Paulding High School will be alternating days on campus starting Monday. Students attended classes on campus for a week before going into full virtual learning this week.
Despite the change, school officials say they intend to return to full in-person instruction as soon as possible.
Two other high schools in Georgia – Woodstock High School and Etowah High School – temporarily moved to remote classes after 14 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in each school and 15 people were awaiting test results, according to the Cherokee County School District.
More than 1,100 students, teachers and staff members at more than a dozen Cherokee County public schools have been placed in two-week quarantines, the school district said.
“We are not hesitating to quarantine students and staff who have had possible exposure – even if the positive test was prompted by possible exposure rather than symptoms, as all positive cases can lead to the infection of others,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower said in a letter to parents on Tuesday.
The other schools are being asked to social distance and use masks.
“As your Superintendent, I wear a mask whenever I cannot social distance.