Reopening Rygaards International School, Copenhagen, Denmark

This post is part of a series of articles, blog posts, and short briefs produced by EXPLO Elevate focused on supporting schools’ virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sudipti Kumar, Director of Research

Recently, we had the opportunity to catch up with Charles Dalton, principal of Rygaards International School in Copenhagen, Denmark to talk about reopening his school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rygaards, like others in the country, welcomed students back to campus in early May – first nursery and primary school students and just this week, secondary school students as well. Below are some of our key observations on Denmark’s approach:

Youngest Students First.

Dalton noted that the first group of students who return is highly dependent on the country’s situation and what they deem most safe as well as economically prudent. For Denmark, it made sense to have the youngest students come back first, because these parents were most in need of childcare to return to work, and the students were least likely to successfully homeschool. He also noted that these parents were likely younger and therefore in better health overall.

Sanitizer and Disinfecting.

One of the school’s most significant investments has been in hiring a disinfecting team that comes to the school twice a day to sanitize the entire school. This cleaning happens during school hours, and is a visible sign to students, parents, and staff, that the school takes cleanliness seriously. The school also has hand sanitizer in every location possible. While hand washing is seen as the ideal in the United States, Denmark sees it and sanitizing of equal value; it is difficult to have so many students wash their hands frequently and with the vigor required to be effective against the virus.

Outdoor Classes are Plan B, not A.

While there have been many articles reporting how Denmark is holding classes outdoors, Dalton was clear that outside classes can only be a Plan B option and cannot be relied upon. “Schools have to plan for the worst case scenario, which does not include having classes outside”, he advised. He says that the school reminded parents to have children wear clothing suitable for the outdoors in case it is an option, and this was always a day-to-day, based on “luck” decision.

Shorter Class Days, Smaller Class Sizes.

The school day is one hour shorter than the typical schedule. This is because the students are spending more time sitting than they normally do, which can feel like a longer day for them and for teachers. When students came back to school, the school initially split up their classes of 24 students into smaller groups of 12 to maintain the appropriate social distance. They had to utilize all the classrooms in the building, and since secondary students were not yet in attendance this was feasible. To staff these extra positions, they invested in part-time staff becoming full-time and also hired a cadre of substitute teachers. Denmark has now changed the requirement of social distance from two meters (~6ft) to one, and as such they can have classes of 24 students in a new configuration of desks than how they previously set them up.

Staggered Arrival and Drop-Off.

The school does not use thermometers, masks, or oximeters. They do, however, have a staggered drop off and dismissal where parents arrive in ten minute intervals through various gates. They also do not have a lengthy check of students before coming into the building, as other countries such as China are noted to be doing. If a teacher spots a student who is displaying symptoms, they are then sent home immediately without any discussion. They also have staggered break times throughout the day.

Doctor’s Note Required if Unable to Return.

Teachers were required to have a doctor’s note if they were not able to return for the school year. Health conditions had to be signed off on by the doctor, and though there were teachers who did not want to return to Rygaards, they ultimately were given a clean bill of health to come back. Anxiety could be named as a reason for non-return, but it does mean that the teacher would be required to take a leave of absence without pay.

Most Students are Back in Class.

There are very few students who have not returned for the school year. Those students who didn’t come back have an asynchronous weekly learning plan organized by the teachers but are not receiving a separate online curriculum. According to Dalton, teachers do not have the time or capacity to focus both on face-face instruction and the online component effectively.