DC schools asked to consider outdoor classrooms in wake of coronavirus following success in Denmark

The success of Danish schools moving away from traditional indoor education amid coronavirus fears has some school leaders in Washington, D.C. thinking of offering a similar alternative this fall.

In April, Denmark became one of the first European countries to reopen daycare and primary schools after a strict five-week lockdown that sought to slow the spread of COVID-19.

With new safety and health guidelines in place – like new handwashing stations, extra sinks, and relocated bathroom facilities – students returned to the classroom.

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The Local reported last month that timetables were changed to keep classroom groups small and a lot of focus was put on outside play and learning.

Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, right, speaks to pupils during the reopening of Lykkebo School in Copenhagen, Wednesday, April 15, 2020. (Philip Davali/Ritzau Scanpix via AP)

Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, right, speaks to pupils during the reopening of Lykkebo School in Copenhagen, Wednesday, April 15, 2020. (Philip Davali/Ritzau Scanpix via AP)

“The morning is spent doing maths or science, where we include children who are still at home via Zoom,” Claire Astley, a teacher at a school in Vester Skernige, told the outlet in May. “Then we’ll go outside and do activities like digging in the school garden, getting tadpoles from the lake or going on bike tours to the forest or beach. We don’t tell the children off if they get too close to each other. We let them be kids.”

Medical experts have said COVID-19 transmissions decreases outdoors, which makes outside learning an appealing alternative to indoor classrooms for schools.

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“I know my kids are concerned about being in a confined four-wall space,” Paige Ela, a parent in Washington, D.C., told WUSA. She recently testified before the school board offering up the alternative for the upcoming school year.

“And going back to a series of Zoom after Zoom for a 6 and a 10-year-old is, you know, an exhausting idea.”

The District of Columbia Public Schools has not finalized a plan for the fall, however, the board is leaning toward an extension of distance learning, alternating students each day, and socially distant classrooms of 10 students, WUSA reported.

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EmpowerEd, an organization that seeks to enhance and improve the self-advocacy of low- and moderate-income D.C. residents, has launched a petition for school leaders to consider outdoor education.

“You can really have equity of access by using public parks, by using outdoor space, by closing streets around our schools to make sure that all schools have access to be able to use that,” Scott Goldstein of EmpowerED told WUSA. "The more space you have, the more creative you can be about things like inclement weather."