Class sizes, room dimensions make social distancing difficult

With Riverside coming fully back to in-person school for the first time since March of 2020, there are social distancing rules that all teachers must follow in their classrooms. But class sizes and the dimensions of their rooms can make them hard to follow.

Teachers were given instruction to maintain 3 feet of distance between students in the classroom, but this has been impossible in many classrooms. For teachers with trailers or unusual rooms at Riverside, following this rule has been hard or even impossible. Teachers simply do not have enough room to fit a large number of students in a small classroom while following social distancing rules.

“I have one of the two smallest classrooms in the school and most seats are filled, so it’s going to be tight because of the design,” said Major Roger Bailey, a JROTC teacher. 

Because of the size of Major Bailey’s classroom, it is not possible to distance students 3 feet apart from each other. This problem is not unique to his classroom. Other teachers have also found it impossible to distance students properly. 

JROTC teacher Roger Bailey’s classroom. Photo by Avery Prince

“I love being in trailer seven, but giving three to six feet between 35 students is physically impossible in that space,” said social studies teacher Anna Allman.

Because of the large number of students in each classroom, teachers cannot accommodate social distancing rules. 

“We need to lower the number of students in class.” Said Koussaila Boumeridja, a French teacher at Riverside, “I would say if we can have cohort A and B like we did when we returned back last semester.”

In the second semester of the 2020-21 school year, students were able to opt-in to return as a part of the cohort system, where students were placed into different groups that attended school in-person on different days. This allowed fewer students to be in the building at one time, but also limited their in-person instruction to two days a week at most. 

Currently, there is no plan to switch back to a cohort system.

Teachers also believe that some of the social distancing rules are impractical and were made by people who don’t fully understand how the school operates. 

“I feel like [state and district leaders] are making decisions without knowing what the actual day-to-day experiences of students and teachers are,” Allman said.

Social studies teacher Anna Allman’s classroom. Photo by Avery Prince

Bailey also believes the social distancing rules are hard to enforce. 

“You can say, you need to keep people three feet or six feet apart, but that’s hard to enforce,” he said. “[Riverside has] almost 2000 students, and all you can do is say it but there’s not enough people to enforce it.” 

Part of the difficulty of social distancing in classrooms is that students also have to comply with social distancing rules, and can forget that they have to stay apart. 

“Some of them, they don’t do it on purpose,” Boumeridja said. “But they just forget that I told them, ‘Hey, don’t stay close to each other, cover your mouth, all that stuff.” 

To follow social distancing rules, teachers have also had to change or cut some activities from the classroom. They are trying to avoid having students create close contact with each other, and are also trying to limit the amount of touching and passing items in the classroom. 

“I had to change some material, especially with the French language or with any language,” Boumeridja said. “There is a lot of role play, students stay in front of each other talking, like doing conversations and all that. So I do not do that.”

French teacher Koussaila Boumeridja’s classroom. Photo by Avery Prince

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