Middle school teacher Brittany Myers (center) protests in front of the Hillsborough County Schools District Office on July 16, 2020 in Tampa, Florida.

Octavio Jones/Getty Images

Teachers, students, and parents across the US are overwhelmingly concerned about going back to packed classrooms this fall, with the novel coronavirus still on the loose. 

President Donald Trump has been bullish about reopening schools to in-person classes, even as experts warn that is a very risky move. 

But there are many things that could be done to make classes safer, including holding them outside, insisting on masks, and keeping a good distance between students. These moves are already being tried out in other places around the world. 

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Teachers, parents, and students across the US are worried about returning to classrooms this fall, as the coronavirus continues to spread rapidly across America.

The nation’s largest school district in New York City is already preparing for a “blended” system of in-classroom and at-home learning in the fall. In Los Angeles, where coronavirus cases are surging, the district will be online-only when school resumes this August. 

“What we want to do is we want to get our schools open,” President Donald Trump said on July 7. “We want to get them open quickly, beautifully in the fall.”

But disease experts in the federal government maintain that holding traditional, full-size, in-person classes where students are not spaced apart during the pandemic is a very risky move. 

Complicating matters further, roughly one in five teachers across the US is over the age of 55, making them at high risk for dangerous coronavirus complications, if they were to contract the virus at school. 

“I am urging all schools to open, and to be providing their students a full-time education,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told CNN last Sunday, echoing President Trump. “The go-to needs to be kids in school, in person, in the classroom.” 

The truth, though, is that going back to school this fall does not have to be such a divisive, all-or-nothing, either jam-packed classrooms or distance learning-only proposition. Here are just a few of the creative, and often low-cost ways that students and teachers around the world have been holding classes, and keeping disease at bay:

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The virus does not spread well outdoors, and many schools around the world are already using that knowledge to their advantage.

A teacher greets with the elbow a pupil during the ‘Noi ci siamo’ event organized to allow children to say goodbye on the last day of school in Turin, Italy, June 1, 2020.

Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

“Outdoors, there’s infinite dilution ventilation,” Dr. Don Milton, a virologist and environmental health professor at the University of Maryland, who studies how people catch and transmit viruses, previously told Business Insider.

Keeping your distance, even when outside, also helps avoid spreading the virus, as these kids in Cyprus seem to know.

Schoolchildren social distanced at a school yard in Nicosia, Cyprus on May 21, 2020, on the first day schools re-opened following the easing of a coronavirus lockdown.

Iakovos Hatzistavrou / AFP via Getty Images

Crowded, stuffy places, like fully-packed classrooms and indoor bars can be great places for the coronavirus to spread.

Primary schools in Italy are already experimenting with outdoor, socially distanced classes for kids.

A teacher reads a book to kindergarteners in Turin, Italy, on May 26, 2020, as part of a pilot test to see how schools might reopen after the coronavirus lockdown.

Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

It’s still unclear how well kids transmit the coronavirus to others.

It’s a lot like a strategy that was once successfully implemented in cities across the US, to prevent the spread of tuberculosis, in the early 1900s.

Children do handicrafts on a roof during open-air schooling in New York City, circa 1912.

Philipp Kester/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Kids in chilly Chicago and New York avoided catching the respiratory pathogen by getting out into fresh, cold air, as the Chicago Tribune and New York Times recently reported.

It’s tougher for wayward coughs, shouts, and sneezes to spread infections through fresh air outside, whether the pathogen at hand is the novel coronavirus, or TB.

Left: a pupil at an open-air school in Providence, Rhode Island, circa 1912. Right: Children bundled up inside an open-air classroom in New York City circa 1911.

Universal Images Group, Philipp Kester/ullstein bild via Getty Images

But open-air schools can definitely require some bundling up in the winter time.

Relatively few studies have attempted to answer the question of whether outdoor instruction is inherently better than learning inside.

A pupil in Turin, Italy sanitizes her hands during the ‘Noi ci siamo’ event organized by an elementary school class on June 1, 2020 to allow children to say goodbye on the last day of school, respecting rules to contain the novel coronavirus.

Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

But scientists have long said that being out in greenery is good for our mood, even if researchers aren’t sure, yet, if learning to do your math outside is really much different than multiplying numbers indoors. 

Outdoor, exploratory school days in Denmark, called udeskole, have shown some promise helping kids develop their own scientific inquiry skills, and (as a bonus) they keep tots more physically active throughout the day.

In Thailand, even as some schools have begun holding classes inside again amid the pandemic, classrooms like this one appear to be hip to the idea that keeping the windows open to circulate fresh air is another smart move.

Students observed social distancing in class at the Makkasan Phitthaya government secondary school in Bangkok, Thailand on July 1, 2020.

Romeo Gacad/AFP via Getty Images

Other good practices for virus control you can see at work in this classroom include having the desks spaced apart, and wearing masks.

“It’s not one thing; it’s not just about the issue of masks, or it’s not just about the issue of hand-washing … It is a combination of measures,” the World Health Organization recently said.

Thai Monks wear face maks and face shields to protect themselves from the coronavirus during their Pali language course at Wat Molilokkayaramon April 17, 2020 in Bangkok, Thailand.

Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images

“We don’t know what the perfect combination is of interventions,” the WHO’s executive director of health emergencies, Mike Ryan, said on Friday,

“What we do know is if individuals and communities are very aware of those risks, very aware of the virus transmission in the area, if the authorities are taking action to ensure that people are safe, safe in schools, safe in restaurants, safe in buildings, and if all of that comes together in an organised and understandable way for communities in the main, those countries, those areas, control this virus.”

In the Kashmir Valley, these students are practicing social distancing, wearing masks, and getting fresh air, all while learning some math.

Mathematician Muneer Alam instructs students in an open-air class at the Eidgah ground in the wake of lockdown imposed against coronavirus on July 1, 2020 in Srinagar, India.

Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

“I first tried teaching online, I created WhatsApp groups of about eight children each, and tried sharing audio files, video clips, images of my notes,” their teacher, Muneer Alam told The Indian Express. “But on 2G internet, it was near impossible.”

 

Alam is teaching his course on a pay-what-you-can basis amid the pandemic, when so many parents are out of work.

Students attend an open-air class in Srinagar city, the summer capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir, July 6, 2020. The socially-distanced classes begin at sunrise.

Javed Dar/Xinhua via Getty Images

Masks are required attire in his class, and there’s a “no mingling” allowed policy among the students. 

“Education is very important in a place like Kashmir,” Alam said. “It’s the only way to keep our youth away from depression, drugs, or violence.”

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