How to go Back to School Series
Part 2 of 3: Safer Student Life
A three-part Q&A series addressing the concerns of superintendents wondering how to return to safe in-person learning.
Did you miss part 1: Click here to read our take on the public health landscape and how to prepare when considering a return in the fall.
School districts are increasingly concerned about how COVID-19 will affect protocols and practices when students return to school. The Institute for Education Innovation has started a dialogue with Superintendents about what to do and how to prepare. Hazel Health was asked to respond with the medical perspective on what to consider when thinking about re-opening.
Hazel Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Rob Darzynkiewicz, and Hazel co-founder/Head of Education Raquel Antunez collaborated in this 3-part Q&A format to address questions asked by superintendents and provide clarity on what steps districts can take next.
Questions sourced directly from IEI’s Superintendent Partners
Q: How do we transport students on buses if the virus is still active? (What are the) social distancing guidance for transportation?
There is a lot to consider going into the fall. If you are thinking about reopening, and when, it goes beyond just what to change in the classroom. There are a lot of components involved, including transportation to and from schools, localizing education, and addressing schools’ distance learning programs.
As it relates to transportation, there are a number of procedures to consider that focus on the health and safety of both students and faculty. While we recognize that each district is unique, and each reopening will look different given the local guidelines and community, here are a few things to ask your leadership team to consider regarding transportation in general:
- How can school buses be set up to adhere to local social distancing guidelines regarding the number of students per bus?
- Is there a way to have windows open to safe levels more often?
- How will bus drivers and students follow any face mask requirements that are applicable at the time?
- What needs to be considered regarding disinfecting buses between rides?
- Could hand sanitizer be made readily available at the door for drop off and pick up, or on the bus?
- Is it possible to have phased drop off times to reduce congregation?
Q: How will we have to rethink student gatherings, like sports, clubs, music? This stuff is the lifeblood of schools!
We agree – student activities are the lifeblood of school life! After many months at home, there will inevitably be significant pent up demand to socialize, play, and enjoy the extracurricular activities that once brought so much joy and community. It is critical that schools focus on creative ways to help students enjoy this important part of student life safely. Alternative activities, changes to activities, staged return, or new rules associated with contact sports could all be ways to help bridge the gap temporarily.
The reality here is that many activities will need to be evaluated as we wait for a vaccine. Some may need to be changed slightly, or even moved temporarily to the virtual world or modified into socially distant activities. We know that the risk increases with large gatherings and shared spaces, so considering ways to limit or manage crowds in closed areas reduces the chance for spread.
Throughout the school year, adjustments might need to be made to implement distance measures or even reschedule large gatherings and high-contact activities. Each community and each district is different. Once a vaccine has been made widely available, students could be allowed to gather again more regularly for activities or events. Superintendents can help demonstrate community leadership through proactive and frequent communication to students and families as guidelines evolve.
Q: What procedures are needed to disinfect school materials that have been in the homes during the closure?
There are many new habits students and staff are going to need to adapt as we all consider how and when to come back together. By addressing a breadth of new instructions and protocols, students and faculty can feel empowered to come back together safely when appropriate for your individual district.
Areas to think about include disinfection protocols for items that come back to school when students return, as well as ongoing disinfecting for materials that come and go. One idea is to create a separation between items that live at school and items that stay at home to lower cross-contamination. Where that is not possible, creating procedures for disinfection for items moving from place to place, or student to student might be right for your schools. Here are some helpful examples of ways to keep cross-contamination from objects down:
- Wiping down computers at the start and end of school each day, as well as between usages
- In-school lunch vs. lunch brought from home – considering requirements surrounding how lunch is brought to school safely
- Checking out materials (like computers) to individual students for longer periods of time, similar to how textbooks are managed
- Shifting an appropriate amount of work to digital to eliminate paper and supplies being passed around
- Limiting in-classroom materials for the day’s lessons or play (like toys, displays, or other teaching tools)
- Overall disinfecting of the school building and common areas. If there are shifts, disinfecting between these shifts.
The mental overload of new policies and procedures is tough on everyone, and will certainly be hard on children trying to adapt and be more aware. The more that simple protocols with streamlined directions can be readied before kids come back to the classroom, the lower the burden will be on everyone.