Design strategies to help K-12 schools reopen amid COVID-19

K-12 school systems are trying to providing safe, comfortable and effective learning experiences for students while also adhering to necessary safety guidelines related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Anne Weber October 8, 2020

K-12 school systems face a remarkable challenge this year: Providing safe, comfortable and effective learning experiences for students while also adhering to necessary safety guidelines related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While districts recognize the value of bringing students together for in-person learning, there is no clear roadmap through the pandemic. Whether a district chooses to bring students back in full or a hybrid variation, they’ll need to forge paths through new hurdles related to virtual learning at scale, social distancing, capacity, restrictions and more.


Critical to districts’ success this fall is understanding how many students can fit in school environments with appropriate social distancing. For example, classrooms that could typically hold 25-30 students will now only be able to accommodate about half that number. As standard classroom capacity is reduced, schools will look to cafeterias, gymnasiums, libraries, art and music classrooms and reshape them for more core academics.

As districts make these shifts in their facilities, they should consider emerging capacity dashboard tools that can help them analyze specific spaces and overall buildings to determine the appropriate number of students for each setting. These tools ensure each decision related to student capacity is informed by data and visualization.

Active Learning

In recent years, architects are grouping classrooms to create learning suites that empower students to move, be curious and explore as they learn as opposed to the traditional classroom experience of sitting in rows of desks all facing the front of the room. This is a positive shift and can help during the pandemic. The fact that the State of Colorado is considering adopting the cohort model to organize students and classes is further evidence learning suites are proving effective.

In this model, classes of the same grade or age group are spending their day in the self-contained environment of a learning suite with access to their own toilet rooms, hallway hand washing stations, water bottle fillers, and direct access to the exterior for exercise or outdoor learning. This inherently allows for separating groups of students in the school while still allowing for community, collaboration and active learning.

Some districts are renovating the school grounds to create a variety of outdoor play and learning areas accessible by separate groups at different times. This will inherently increase active learning on campus, which is beneficial to effective learning during and after the current public health crisis.

This article originally appeared on CannonDesign’s website. CannonDesign is a CFE Media content partner.

Original content can be found at

Author Bio: Anne Weber, PK-12 practice leader, CannonDesign