A quarantine worker sprays disinfectant at a high school, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Seoul,…
A quarantine worker sprays disinfectant at a high school, following the coronavirus disease outbreak, in Seoul, South Korea, May 11, 2020.

Students in South Korea, Vietnam and the U.S. state of Montana are returning to the classroom or are close to doing so, while educators elsewhere around the world evaluate when to reopen their schools.

South Korea had been planning for high school seniors to return to classes this week and others to return later in May. Instead, officials have delayed the reopening after the latest coronavirus outbreak. They are now trying to identify and contact 5,500 people who visited a popular entertainment area in Seoul over the weekend.

In Vietnam, students returned to their classrooms last week wearing masks. They are scanned for temperatures at the school gates. Health officials reported that the country had gone for three weeks without any new cases of COVID-19.

Both countries have contained the spread of the virus by expanding testing and tracking people who might have been in contact with anyone reported to be infected.

FILE - Primary school students wearing protective masks attend their first day of class after the government eased a nationwide lockdown during the coronavirus disease outbreak in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, May 11, 2020.

Official guidelines

In the U.S., the White House released guidelines to reopen the country in three phases. The guidelines propose that schools may reopen in Phase 2, along with theaters, religious centers, sporting events and restaurants. The guidelines suggest that states could make the decision after documenting a 28-day decrease of COVID-19 cases and putting in place a strong testing program.

The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security supports plans to reopen the U.S. in phases. The center, however, notes that there are still unanswered medical questions. One is about the rate at which children can spread the virus to others. That unknown makes it more difficult to know when schools should reopen.

“If schools are reopened, decisions will need to be made regarding whether tele-education will need to be provided to those students who do not come back to school, alongside in-person education being provided in school,” the center said.

The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) is a research organization that supports limited government and conservative policy. In a report for the institute, John Bailey and Frederick Hess suggest that education leaders begin planning now to reopen in the fall, based on new information about how the coronavirus disease spreads.

“Depending on the public health sit­uation, there may be waves of stopping and starting, partial or staggered openings, or other developments,” the report said.

Learning from other countries

The AEI said U.S. leaders might learn from the reopening of schools in other countries. For example, Danish health officials have reopened schools but with required hand-washing and social distancing rules. Spaces between students are larger, and classes are much smaller. Tables, door handles and other surfaces are disinfected two times a day.

The report suggests changes to school operations, including lunches and transportation.

Schools may permit only one student per seat on school buses to observe social distancing guidelines. Large cities will need to provide a safe environment for students using crowded public transportation.

Lunches may be served in classrooms or in smaller groups. Now, some schools are bringing meals not just to students but also to people in need in the community. All of these services will add to the costs of operation and require more money.

Mental, physical health care

Students will be returning to school after a long period of isolation. Some will have lost friends and family members to COVID-19. People in their families may have lost jobs. More mental health workers will be needed to help them deal with depression and anxiety.

Older teachers and staff members are at a higher risk of serious illness if they get the virus. And some may wish to continue teaching from a distance until a vaccine is available.

FILE - This May 4, 2020, photo shows Willow Creek School in Willow Creek, Mont. The school with its 56 students was among the first in the U.S. to reopen after being shut because of coronavirus concerns.

Montana schools

A small school in Montana was one of the first to reopen in this school year, doing so on May 7.

The Willow Creek School has 56 students. Bonnie Lower, head of the school system, said she knew the school was taking a risk in reopening for just 2 ½ weeks.

But a local survey showed most of the parents in the rural community wanted to reopen the classrooms. They wanted their children to continue their studies and experience a little of normal life before the school break, Lower said.