As schools gear up for a new year, it is clear that they need a pandemic plan. Coronavirus has not gone away, and schools need to develop clear strategies to successfully and safely reopen schools.
National School Closings
The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has ravaged countries across the world. Its impact was felt not only in people's health, economic livelihoods, and social ties, but also in education. Beginning as early as February, schools began to shut their doors. By mid-March, many districts in the United States had closed their physical campuses for the remainder of the school year.
At the onset of the pandemic, many schools implemented temporary shutdowns, intending to return students to school after a few weeks. Districts utilized distance learning to deliver instruction, which was inconsistent in its success. Many larger districts with sizeable low-income student populations struggled to ensure that all students had the requisite technology and devices to interact with the distance learning model effectively. Teachers, meanwhile, possessed a wide range of expertise in remote teaching, which led to challenges for some to make the transition to online instruction. As the number of coronavirus cases continued to climb through the spring, many districts opted to keep physical campuses closed through June, with distance learning as the instructional model.
CDC school closing recommendations led to full closures in 48 states and Washington, D.C., as well as all the American territories, for the school year. Only Montana and Wyoming partially reopened schools during the spring semester, citing smaller class sizes and a hybrid approach of distance learning and in-person support for students. The ability to social distance, coupled with brief interactions in those schools, may have helped stave off COVID-19 outbreaks.
Public Health Guidance for Schools
As more information comes out daily, the CDC has formulated a set of guidelines for schools to reopen schools safely. While some states and districts have decided to continue distance learning, others are attempting physical re-openings. For locations with students returning to campus, the CDC recommends the following points to include in a pandemic plan for schools.
- Communicate consistently and clearly with all stakeholders.
School officials need to provide leadership, including encouraging students, staff, and families to practice preventative measures to avoid spreading the coronavirus.
- Incorporate mitigation strategies from Day One.
Use research-backed strategies, such as regular hand washing, face coverings, social distancing, and smaller groups that navigate the school day together (cohorts).
- Adjust COVID-19 mitigation approaches as needed.
Be agile with extracurricular activities and events that mingle cohorts. If social distancing is not an option, consider canceling the event, or limiting the number of participants.
- Provide sanitary environments.
Make sure to regularly disinfect common areas and surfaces - such as doorknobs, faucet handles, pencil sharpeners, tables, and chairs.
- Reimagine spaces in your school.
Increase social distancing and decrease student proximity to each other, by holding classes outside or using previously unused rooms (storage rooms, underutilized libraries, etc.)
- Develop an actionable plan if a member of the school community tests positive for COVID.
Have an action plan ready to go, in the form of a tree diagram or checklist, that can help you quickly achieve the school community's best outcomes.
- Work with state and local agencies at each stage of the reopening.
Establish means of contact tracing for students who test positive with agencies and follow COVID statistics and trends for your community. Many countries that have shown success in limiting the spread of coronavirus have utilized contact tracing extensively.
- Reinforce to parents the importance of home monitoring.
Explain the various symptoms that parents should look for, and the importance of keeping a sick child at home so as not to spread the virus.
The CDC established these guidelines based on research. Social distancing - keeping a separation of at least six feet between individuals - along with consistent hand-washing and wearing masks, is linked to lower transmission rates around the world.
Students and staff should stay home if they demonstrate any symptoms of the virus, as well. Some ways to encourage staying at home are communicating that there are no punitive actions for those that remain home. Teachers should not be penalized, and student incentives (such as attendance awards) can be eliminated during this pandemic. If any individual has been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, they should stay home.
Schools need to maintain proper levels of sanitary supplies, including soap, hand sanitizer, no-touch trash cans, and face coverings for students who do not have them. Signage should be posted prominently and visibly throughout the campus, explaining procedures and reminding individuals to remain safe and practice proper hygiene.
While the CDC recommends these guidelines, states have specific powers to implement their unique systems. For example, some states have less stringent face-covering mandates. Schools in those states should continue to actively practice other safety measures (social distancing, cohorts, etc.) as much as possible. Schools should deep-clean regularly, on the weekends at a minimum, to help maintain a sanitary environment.
Many districts are pushing for federal funds to accomplish these health objectives. Districts are requesting more nurses and other specialists on campuses so that students can be identified and treated quickly. Additionally, the cost of cleaning supplies, face coverings, and ancillary expenses can add up quickly; federal funding is likely necessary to meet those needs. Otherwise, schools may rely on donations from the community and internal budgets to fund those items.
Guidance for Infection Control in Schools
The coronavirus crisis has shown the need to be flexible in our responses and policies and come up with different ideas to keep schools safe. Many of the guidelines the CDC has created comes from observing successes in other countries. To ensure adequate infection control, all teachers and students who demonstrate coronavirus risk factors or have been in contact with COVID-positive individuals should be tested. At this time, the CDC has deemed universal testing to be unrealistic and intrusive.
However, as part of back to school illness prevention, all individuals entering campus should be administered a temperature check, using a no-touch forehead thermometer. If students have a fever, schools can determine whether to send children home or isolate them and monitor their symptoms during the school day.
Â Districts need to revise their school sickness policy during this time so that students and staff are encouraged to stay home if they have any symptoms. Work can be sent home, either as a physical assignment provided to the family or via distance learning. Schools need to be flexible, and adapt to all students' needs, as some may not have internet access or devices. Some families may have childcare issues, where the parents may have no choice but to have students stay home. Schools should accommodate those families and provide assignments with no punishment for missing physical school. Many districts have been supplying breakfast and lunch to low-income students during the school closures and should continue to do so for children who are forced to quarantine.
Health Supplies for Schools
Schools have multiple options for obtaining health supplies and create a safe school. A primary way to have families support the school is to follow health measures at home and in the community. Making sure that students wash hands, social distance, and wear face coverings is the first line of defense, and will help teachers and staff successfully reopen schools. Families can donate money to the PTA, drop off cleaning supplies to schools, and provide their children with personal hygiene products (hand sanitizer, face coverings, tissues). Reopening schools is a community effort, and families can help by supplying these health supplies when they can.
School Pandemic Plan
Schools have the best chance at a successful physical return to campus by following the CDC's national school safety policy and guidelines. By ensuring social distancing, cohorts, wearing facial coverings, and maintaining proper hygiene, students and staff can prioritize their health. While different states and regions have varying requirements and mandates, all want the same thing: a healthy arrival to campus. Having a clear strategy, based on science and data, is the responsibility of each school. By knowing what the steps are, schools can help mitigate dangers of the novel coronavirus with a detailed and actionable plan.
As schools reopen, staffing needs change. In this new age, students - and schools - are faced with many challenges. There will be an increased demand for nurses, school psychologists, and other specialists to nurture student mental health during these difficult times.
Here at ProCare Therapy, you can find the best applicants in the country, ready to help your school navigate the challenges ahead. Find talented professionals that your students need today.