Road Map for K-12 Education - Four Strategies for De-densifying Schools

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Road Map for K-12 Education

Four Strategies for De-densifying Schools Summer, 2020 V.1.0

Four Strategies for De-densifying Schools De-densification of schools can be achieved through a variety of strategies, some of which can be low cost without physical modifications to the facility. However, these tactics should be discussed before the school reopens as they present capacity and staffing challenges that may impede the ability to go back to school. Social distancing reduces potential droplet exposure and by extension, the viral load in the air and on surfaces. These strategies address de-densifying classrooms, hallways, entrances/exits, and other school facilities.


― Schools are unique due to their building typology and occupants. Educational Adaptation

Health Promotion

Risk Mitigation

Author / Summer - 2020 Erika Eitland , ScD, MPH

Most school facilities have four times the density of office spaces, which increases the opportunity of infectious disease spread. Children (aged 5-18 years old) are vulnerable to environmental and social conditions because of their developing physical and mental health. As of July 9, over 200,000 U.S. children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. This is less than 8% of all cases reported in the United States.1

Research Analyst


Strategies for De-densifying Schools

01 ― Employ 6-foot distancing throughout the school. 2


See Capacity Guidelines for more information. An example of a seated student is provided for reference. nj  Minimum distancing scenario for schools with lower infection risk or greater capacity need:




‒  Provide a 6-foot distance between student seated at desks when students are in a stationary seated position. ‒  The 6-foot radius around each desk can include circulation space required to access each desk. Students may need to pass through the 6-foot area on the way to their desk.

nj  More Ideal Scenario for schools with higher infection risk

8-feet from student to student


or lower capacity need and more building stock: ‒  Always provide a 6-foot radius around all student desks. ‒  Provide an aisle (2-foot minimum) between each 6-foot radius so students can circulate through the


room without encroaching on another student’s 6-foot radius. This greatly reduces classroom capacity but minimizes risk of physical proximity. ‒  Use tape on the floor to mark distances or circulation paths. Tape can also be used to identify desk locations in the event they are moved. Fun colors and a creative narrative may help younger student comply with these paths.



6’ 3’

02 ― Consider alternative schedules and approaches to mitigate crowding. 3 nj  Stagger start times to reduce person-to-person contact when people are entering the building and changing classes. With a 10-minute difference, schools do not have to change the entire schedule to reduce density in common spaces such as hallways and entrances. nj  Eliminate common bell schedules to keep hallways from over-crowding. nj  Keep students in place while teachers migrate between class periods. This may work best for younger grades or schools with distinct cohorts of students. nj  Assign students alternate days for school attendance. A:B scheduling can allow time to thoroughly clean the facility between student groups as well as limit the need for additional bussing during the day. nj  Challenge: This requires more educational spaces to be repurposed. This scenario may not be possible for schools at or exceeding enrollment capacity.

For example: Have one cohort (A) in the building Monday and Tuesday. Clean on Wednesday with no students or staff. Have the second cohort (B) in the building on Thursday and Friday. This approach lets the virus die on surfaces over the weekend, and the school only needs to do one major disinfecting clean per week instead of every day.


Strategies for De-densifying Schools

03 ― Use all available spaces throughout the campus. nj  Increase circulation by using all available stairs and hallways. This is useful when certain staircases may be underutilized or closed to daily circulation. Refresh these stairs to help students change classes easily. nj  We do not recommend using hallways as learning environments (including for small group sessions or 1:1 teaching), as they may be against fire code. nj  Assign different entrances for arrival and departure to support contact tracing and reduce density during high occupancy times.4 nj  Repurpose large shared spaces (e.g. cafeterias, gyms, outdoor spaces) for instructional space. By repurposing existing furniture, using signage, and taping boundaries on the floor, additional learning spaces can be quickly created to increase school capacity while abiding by physical distancing guidelines.

04 ― Leverage virtual environments. nj  Limit additional people entering the school building. Small meetings such as parent-teacher conferences could be held virtually. nj  Take a blended approach to classrooms with students participating both virtually and in person. nj  Make staff meetings virtual to ensure conference rooms and offices are not exceeding capacity.6 nj  Introduce remote collaboration for older students or more independent learners nj  Have students remain virtual, while allowing teachers to use the school building as long as reliable online infrastructure exists.5


It is important to remain nimble and find solutions that allow schools to maintain their core function of educating future generations while keeping health top of mind.


How to address educational gaps and hardships? 01 ― For students that are affected by the digital divide and require ongoing distance learning:6

02 ― Support students with pre-existing health conditions: nj  Students who have a higher risk profile (e.g. immunocompromised, asthma or other respiratory

nj  Consider strategically leveraging WiFi-equipped busses

conditions) may require educational support and health

(originally used to support daily commutes) to help

services. Work with students’ families to understand the

students and teachers access reliable internet by parking

unique health risks of each child before returning to school.

them near students in need. 7

nj  For students with asthma, please reference the Asthma

nj  If securing internet access at home is not possible, use

and Allergy Foundation of America guidance including

busses as a mechanism to distribute or collect hard copy

information on special COVID-19 protocols, inhaler use,

learning materials.

and asthma action plans.8

nj  Coordinate with caretakers to pick up materials in

nj  Due to school and housing environmental conditions,

advance of sessions.

some students should not return to school if the risk

nj  Issue technology to students through a 1:1 computer

of COVID-19 infection is greater at school than home.

device policy.

Conversations with families may reveal the best solution for each student.

nj  Provide technology training for caretakers (this may need to be a paper tutorial) to increase technology literacy,

nj  If students are living with individuals who are

especially when the school uses proprietary software

immunocompromised, they should be allowed to opt-out

that the general public does not use. Make special

of in-person instruction and continue learning virtually to

accommodations for households that do not have reliable

support family safety and health.

internet connection at home or where grandparents may be the primary guardians, and for families. nj  Provide accommodations for families who have limited English proficiency.


Addressing Educational Gaps and Hardships

03 ― Support instruction for students experiencing homelessness or housing instability: 9 nj  Issue surveys to assess students’ self-identified needs. nj  Prioritize access to school facilities for students who lack a home environment conducive to remote learning. nj  Identify transitional housing (e.g. motels or shelters) with concentrations of homeless students and provide services at these locations. nj  Solicit back-up contact information from additional trusted adults or guardians. nj  Make book access distributed rather than centralized. nj  Provide mobile hotspots so that students can take the internet with them if they need to move during the school year.

04 ― Prioritize in-person instruction for students with disabilities:10 nj  Consider bringing in small cohorts of students to receive essential special services or providing virtual delivery of services. nj  Prior to opening, do an assessment of the specific needs of students with disabilities to avoid any logistical or social challenges. These accommodations may change social distancing layouts in classrooms. nj  For services that cannot be delivered adequately or appropriately, plan for the provision of compensatory services as soon as it is possible to do so. *See section on PPE regarding use of Communicator Masks for speechimpaired staff and students.


Schools facilities are unique because of their building typology and diverse occupants.


― References 1

ttps:// h children-and-covid-19-state-level-data-report/



ational Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Reopening K-12 Schools During the N COVID-19 Pandemic: Prioritizing Health, Equity, and Communities. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.


ttps:// h reopening-the-world-reopening-schools-insights-from-denmark-and-finland/



ttps:// divide-between-schools-and-communities/






We are here to assist you in your return to school. For more information, please contact: Š 2020 The guidance provided on this site is based on the available information as of the date of publication and does not replace federal, state, or local public health recommendations but aggregates best practices and innovative solutions at the intersection of buildings and school health. We encourage schools to reach out and seek expert advice on their unique circumstances.