"Not really fair, but it is safe": How some schools are forging ahead with reopening plans

Schools make reopening plans amid pandemic
Schools make reopening plans amid pandemic 04:28

The 23-desk classroom will be a thing of the past in at least one New Jersey school, as districts nationwide grapple with if and how to reopen safely in the fall as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases continues to climb. 

"So you're gonna have half of the classroom on each week," Eastlake Elementary Principal Sebastian Powell told CBS News' Meg Oliver. "The students will come in one week, they'll be here for four days, and then they'll go to distance learning the next week while the other cohort comes in."

While they are still finalizing their plan, some rooms in the Parsippany, New Jersey school have already been adjusted with half the number of usual desks, just 11, spaced six feet apart and with dividers separating them. 

Students attending school in-person must wear a mask, and walk the hallways according to what Powell called "a lane" designated for each way to avoid crowding. 

Other modifications will see the students eat lunch at their desks rather than a cafeteria, though they cannot leave behind books and school supplies. School buses that used to carry 52 students will now only board 22. The school will also shut down for cleaning each night.

Teachers, Powell said, would "most likely" be doing their instruction from a designated area of the classroom.

"If she needs to navigate the classroom, she can do so, but still needs to maintain a distance," he explained.

Powell acknowledged that the restrictions are "not optimal" for kids and teachers looking forward to a normal school experience, but said he was "confident" the measures would allow his school to reopen safely

"Not really fair, but it is safe," he said. "Basically it's just like any other lesson, we're gonna teach the kids the safety and ensure that they know what they're doing, and I think they will adjust fine."

Other school districts around the country are also planning on smaller class sizes, along with mask mandates, less movement through schools and fewer visitors.

Despite the changes, one Dallas teacher who contracted COVID-19 just weeks ago is refusing to return, and painted a bleak picture of why she was "scared" to go back.

"It is so disheartening to see so many teachers in all of the teacher groups that I see putting together wills, having that conversation with their kids about 'what happens if I die,'" Andrea Bazemore, who teaches first grade, said. 

Some families, like the Bentons in West Orange, New Jersey, believe the risks of in-person learning are crucial to their children's development. They say remote learning took a heavy toll on their family — especially their oldest daughter, who has autism. 

"It got worse over time," Daniela Benton said of her daughter's condition. "She really secluded herself off from the world completely."

She said in-person teaching meant "everything" for her daughter's development. 

"She relies on the interaction with that other person," Benton explained. 

The Holmes family in Tulsa, Oklahoma, will not be sending their two youngest children back to school, citing both parents' immune-compromising conditions. 

"My husband hasn't been at work since March so we literally have been living off of just my disability," Randi Holmes said. 

However, the technology to support more remote learning comes at a cost, and the Holmeses, like other families, are struggling with difficult choices.

"It may be whether this month we pay the light bill, or water, or gas," Holmes said. "We may have to put it off."