A look inside one of Guilford County’s socially distanced classrooms

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — As Guilford County Schools prepares to reopen school buildings this fall with restrictions, leaders are showing what classrooms could look like.

In Sternberger Elementary School, desks in a third-grade classroom are spaced so that students would sit 6 feet apart. Angie Henry, the chief operating officer for the district, explained that staff are preparing for a 50 percent capacity reduction in classrooms.

“We can use 50 percent of the building occupancy,” she said. “That does not mean 50 percent of class size, that does not mean 50 percent of enrollment. It means 50 percent of the building occupancy.”

Henry pointed to stacks of classroom furniture in the hallways at Sternberger, noting that staff are working to find additional space they can use.

“You’ll note that there are no rugs,” Henry said. “We’d have to take out all the soft things that really can’t be disinfected well, like pillows, bean bags, all the stuff you usually see in the kindergarten.”

The school’s combined gym and cafeteria space was transformed into an additional classroom. Whitney Oakley, the chief academic officer for Guilford County Schools, explained that teachers or student assistants will pick meals up from the kitchen to avoid crowding.

“Students won’t be congregated at cafeteria tables eating breakfast and lunch together, so we would pick those up and take them to the classrooms,” she said.

Oakley explained that partitions could be used to divide the space.

“It’s really complicated and it’s really different and it’s not like anything we’ve ever done before, and every building is unique in what it needs and what you need to operate in that building,” she said.

Oakley added that groups of principals have visited Sternberger to get ideas for their own schools. She hopes that parents and students will also be able to visit their home schools before the start of the school year.

“You can’t do mass gatherings of open house, so we’re going to have to think about that differently, but it really does help to see it and touch it and look at it, so that’s part of the planning process,” Oakley said.

The district could not provide an estimated cost for partitions or storage space for classroom furniture.

Under Gov. Roy Cooper’s proposed plan for school reopening, face coverings would be required by students and staff, and health screenings would be completed on a regular basis.

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