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Three Approaches to Social Distancing in Schools

Earl Crossland, RA, LEED-AP  |  VSWC Vice President + Architect

With educators considering re-opening schools following COVID-19 social distancing requirements, distinct areas of each school building may need to be reimagined and reconfigured.


Rearranging student desks or furniture with 6 feet of clearance between will obviously decrease the capacity of the classroom. Our analysis shows that a typical 800 square feet classroom designed for 25 students can only accommodate about 15 or 16 students spread 6 feet apart. The good news is that whiteboard focused, center focused and small group discussion layouts all can be accommodated with this same reduced number of students. We also find that capacities vary widely based on the type of student desks and other furniture in the room, as well as room dimensions and layout. For example, rooms with individual desks will have greater capacity than rooms with tables.

Common Areas:

Since large gatherings of students in common spaces such as cafeterias, and gyms will be discouraged, lost classroom capacity may be replaced by dividing these spaces with moveable partitions to create additional classroom-like spaces. Many gyms have roll-down
dividing curtains which could also create more instructional spaces. Unused classroom desks could be moved into these temporary classrooms. Media centers could also be temporarily divided and repurposed for classroom instruction.


Many school corridors are 8- 10 feet wide wall to wall or locker face to locker face. This means that student movement between classes will have to be single file along the perimeter walls to maintain 6 feet of separation. Consequently, educators will need to consider limiting movement, staggering movement times or designating one-way hallways were possible. Locker use will likely need to be discontinued or significantly curtailed and managed.

These are just a few physical planning issues to consider when re-opening schools.
Educators will face a myriad of other decisions to reduce student populations through split days, split weeks, split busing, and distance learning, along with new staffing, cleaning and food service protocols.

VSWC Architects can help with building reconfiguration and documentation that may be required to re-open your schools.

If you'd like help with social distance plans, contact Jim Voorhis at

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