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It is official: We are now “The Copenhagen Model for Reopening School”

The Association for the Advancement of International Education (AAIE) asked our director Sandy Mackenzie to share our experiences. This is his take on our return to normal, based on three simple principles and with 8 concrete points to consider.

Getting back to a new normal

Denmark is regularly ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world, and right now it is one of the safest. The first confirmed case of COVID-19 on February 27th was a journalist returning from a skiing holiday in Italy. By March 11th, the Prime Minister announced a series of lockdown measures; this was prior to the first death linked to the virus. Three weeks of remote learning for us across the school went very well despite the lack of notice and limited preparation. Our community rallied around - parents were supportive, students were versatile and teachers were adaptable. The most challenging situation was for those teachers who had young children at home and were simultaneously trying to educate their classes through virtual means.

In early April, the government announced that Primary Schools could, and should, re-open on April 15th. One of the benefits of receiving a government subsidy for our independent, private, international school is that the choice to re-open did not need to be made by us. Our responsibility was to open our doors to Primary School students, and to do so within the clear and strict guidelines created by the Danish Board of Health.

Those clear guidelines included advice and expectations about which staff and students could be on campus, who should stay at home and people in specific high risk categories. There was guidance about additional cleaning, hand hygiene, and maintaining distance between students. The Primary School Leadership Team sprang into action, meeting with very experienced staff representatives who are part of our Work Environment Group and the Primary School Union representative. Together, they created guidelines and procedures that would support staff, ensure clear expectations for students and reassure parents. We communicated with parents about the re-opening immediately, promising further information would be forthcoming. We then asked the parents to indicate if they would send their children to campus, or if they would remain at home due to significant health concerns. Once we had confirmed our procedures, we put together an information pack for teachers and another for parents and then also held a virtual Town Hall meeting where parents were able to ask specific questions.

The re-opening of school has been very successful, with parents’ confidence in the arrangements increasing daily to the point that we now have 90% of students on campus and we have had to add new classes. Part of that success has been due to the simplifications made to our usual model - this is termed emergency learning and does not include all of the differentiating factors that are part of the regular student experience. We now have small groups of students (maximum 10) with one home room teacher, single desks and no transitions in the school day other than more time outside than usual. For resources, we have ensured individual sets so that there is less sharing happening and students are not bringing materials back and forth from home. We have cancelled school buses, staggered start and finish times and changed our lunch arrangement so that it is eaten in the classroom, with lunches delivered. No parents or visitors are allowed on campus, and there are clear routes for all movement into, out of and through the building.

All of the arrangement for our “new normal” is based on the principles:
- We keep everyone as safe as possible on campus by increasing hygiene, limiting physical interactions and keeping distance between people
- Clear communication and expectations for all stakeholders
- Maintaining our community ethos and familiarity of school routines

No doubt, each country and each context is different. In Denmark, we are particularly fortunate with our infrastructure, health system and clear guidelines. Hopefully, the below points to consider may be helpful along with this collection of the arrangements and procedures that we put in place here: https://www.copenhageninternational.school/c19/

Points to consider:
- Get key staff involved
- Agree on the principles that are the priorities for this period
- Simplify the organisation of learning to promote those priorities
- Reassure staff about expectations and safeguards
- Hold a planning day for staff on campus
- Make simple rules for students
- Obtain accurate numbers of students who will return to campus
- Communicate regularly with parents