5 Struggles Schools Are Facing as They Plan to Re-Open

When faced with the unprecedented, it’s helpful to seek the support of people going through the same experience. With that in mind, the Texas Association of School Business Officials (TASBO) and Gordian recently brought together a group of school business officers from across Texas to virtually meet with their peers, discuss their challenges, share solutions and ideas and ask one another how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting their schools and facilities.

If there’s ever been a time when the K-12 community needed to rally around each other, it’s now.

In the past few months, leaders of K-12 schools have made a sudden switch to virtual learning. They have faced shortages of necessary supplies. Now they are being challenged to create plans for returning to in-person instruction under social distancing guidelines.

Here are five struggles schools are facing as they consider re-opening in the fall.

1. Social Distancing

School districts have made the most of empty buildings by getting a jump start on summer construction while following social distancing guidelines. But what happens when students and teachers return to campus? How do social distancing guidelines work inside a functioning school?

K-12 leaders recognize the need to restrict group size. That’s an enormous task. So much of the typical school experience involves large groups of students. What does a socially-distanced gym class look like? Can students use the playground for recess?

School leaders from Texas discussed serving meals in the classroom. This practice will lead to a need for more trash disposal, enhanced cleanup for classrooms and, potentially, carpet replacement.

Another area of challenge is busing. In order to keep the six feet social distancing rule in effect, only 12 students may be allowed on a bus at a time. What does that do to bus routes? Do schools need to rethink their bus fleet? These are all questions schools are grappling with as they try to maintain social distancing guidelines.

School business officers were already working with smaller budgets for the upcoming fiscal year. The pandemic has only intensified the financial strain.

2. School Funding

School business officers were already working with smaller budgets for the upcoming fiscal year. The pandemic has only intensified the financial strain. They know they need more cleaning supplies. They might need more buses. Many of the leaders we talked to were concerned that school nutrition programs may be cut and that instructional time may be lost to students cleaning shared materials. And those are just the funding concerns schools have for returning to buildings.

If forced to return to a virtual learning model, they may need WiFi hotspots for teachers and students. Schools also have to consider accommodations for students without computers in the home and aids for teachers conducting classes virtually.

3. Classrooms and Other School Spaces

Schools are struggling to make decisions about space. If student desks are to be stationed six feet apart, classroom space will be severely limited. These circumstances may result in spaces being expanded or schedules being changed as schools attempt to minimize the number of students in a given space.

Some school districts are utilizing Gordian’s Job Order Contracting (JOC) solution to expedite construction procurement. Gordian’s JOC solutions allow school districts to quickly complete renovations and construction while also providing cost control and financial transparency.

 

4. Standardizing School Safety Protocols

With cases of coronavirus spiking across the South, this is a topic of grave concern. What happens when a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19? How do they develop those protocols and how do they communicate them — particularly to staff who speak limited English?

5. Check-in/Check-out

States want a record of who enters buildings in case they need to trace contacts. Schools are struggling to meet this requirement in light of the number of coaches, parents, teachers, volunteers, school district officials and other visitors schools welcome on a daily basis.

The enhanced check-in process is creating a demand for accurate record-keeping technology. Some facility managers mentioned requiring badges for employees to enter buildings but what about students and other visitors? Schools are evaluating technologies that minimize business disruption and capture the data the state requires and determining how to train staff to use them.

Working Hard to Re-Open Schools

Despite the challenges that have arisen from the pandemic, school leaders are determined to find solutions for their facilities and their students. These leaders are leaning on each other and their partners to overcome their struggles while providing a safe and comfortable learning environment for the upcoming school year.

Gordian

About Gordian

Gordian is the leader in facility and construction cost data, software and services for all phases of the building lifecycle. A pioneer of Job Order Contracting, Gordian’s solutions also include proprietary RSMeans data construction costs and Sightlines Facility Intelligence Solutions. From planning to design, to procurement, construction and operations, Gordian’s solutions help clients maximize efficiency, optimize cost savings and increase building quality.