As debate surrounds the logistics of re-opening schools during a pandemic, the fact is that many schools are planning to return to in-person classrooms in some capacity over the coming weeks. While some parents may have the option of keeping their children at home when schools reconvene, many teachers will not – putting them on the “front lines” of exposure as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise throughout the country.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Limited data about COVID-19 in children suggest that children are less likely to get COVID-19 than adults, and if they do contract COVID-19, they generally have less serious illness than adults.” However, teachers and school administrators who spend time with children will face a higher risk.
On July 28th, Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, the second–largest teacher’s union in the US, made the following statement: “Just as we have done with our healthcare workers, we will fight on all fronts for the safety of our students and their educators. But if the authorities don’t get it right and they don’t protect the safety and health of those we represent and those we serve, nothing is off the table…“ Weingarten went on to specify that the union would consider holding “safety strikes” or taking legal action if schools fail to create a safe environment for re-opening.
What do school authorities need to do to protect the health and safety of children, parents, teachers, staff and administrators? At DeCurtis, we have said and still fully believe that there is no silver bullet when comes to tackling this crisis head-on. So, what mix of technology, process and protocols can help us protect our teachers and educational staff?
The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article citing numerous health experts and their recommendations for safely re-opening schools. Those safety measures included the following:
- Wear masks – Everyone in the facility should wear masks or face shields when in the building. (There may be exceptions for younger children.)
- Create “pods” – Students should be grouped in small pods that do not mix with others – that way, if there is an outbreak within a pod, only the children within that pod would need to be quarantined.
- Maintain social distancing – The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released new guidelines in June and stated that physical distancing between students could be reduced to three feet instead of six feet, especially if masks are worn. Adults should continue to maintain a distance of at least six feet away from any person.
- Create a buffer – Teachers should teach in front of the classroom with a large buffer of as much as 15-20 feet, if possible, between them and their students.
- Improve air ventilation and filtration – This is achieved by simply opening windows and using fans to increase fresh air circulation. HVAC systems should use high–efficiency filters and ensure they are bringing in outdoor air instead of re-circulating indoor air. Air purifiers may also be helpful.
- Gatherings should be avoided – Teachers and children are advised to eat lunch at their desks instead of gathering in a cafeteria or other enclosed spaces. Teacher/staff meetings should be held remotely. Measures should be put in place to prevent hallways from becoming crowded during class changes, or classroom changes should be avoided.
- Go outside – Teachers may want to consider teaching some classes outside if there is available space and weather permits. Recess and outdoor gym classes are considered less risky than some other indoor activities.
- Implement rigorous cleaning and sanitization protocols – This should include regular handwashing, setting up washing/sanitization stations within classrooms, and regularly cleaning and disinfecting furniture/desks, school supplies, sporting equipment, shared computers and keyboards, etc.
Some schools are creating hybrid models by dividing lessons between in-class teaching and online. Others are creating alternating schedules that allow students to come to school at different times or on different days so fewer people congregate at once.
One of the most important safety measures for students and teachers alike is to stay home if they are exhibiting any symptoms of illness. The AAP guidelines state that “any student or staff member with a fever of 100.4 degrees or greater, or symptoms of possible COVID-19 virus infection should not be present in school.”
Thermal imaging kiosks positioned at entranceways can automatically take a person’s temperature touch-free in seconds and can therefore serve as the first line of defense in keeping schools safe.
There are no easy answers on how to protect our newest workers on the front line during this pandemic. Schools that follow best practices, implement recommended guidelines, and put comprehensive plans in place should reduce the risk of infection inside re-opened schools. And this will go long ways towards reassuring parents, students, administrators and teachers.