How Should Schools Re-Open Safely?

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How Should Schools Re-Open Safely?

Empty Classroom

The California Department of Public Health has issued interim guidance on school re-opening. Providing a basic overview of suggested steps, it intends to inform planning based on specific conditions at a county and school by school level.

A significant goal in the creation of re-opening schemes is the involvement of all stakeholders, including students, family and staff. School administrations are implored to take into account the needs of their populations while being aware of the possibility of negative or unintended consequences. CDPH asks all stakeholders to be involved in the process to assist in mitigating risk.

The guidance document offers measures across several topics, which are summarized here. Please read the entire document for more in depth information.

  1. General Measures
    The state provides guidelines for communication with state and local authorities regarding overall COVID-19 levels, and a plan to address site specific community usage. Additionally, the CDPH advises schools to carefully consider how to support students with access and functional needs, so that they can continue to take part in school activities while remaining safe.
  2. Promote Healthy Hygiene Practices
    Schools should consider portable handwashing stations in addition to teaching their entire community about basic hygiene, from washing hands to covering coughs and sneezes.
  3. Intensify Cleaning, Disinfection, and Ventilation
    Staff should identify frequently touched surfaces that must be disinfected regularly, and if possible, phase out use of some resources. They also recommend limitations on sharing of objects and equipment, along with reducing the use playground equipment in favor of activities that do not require contact with surfaces.
  4. Implementing Distancing Inside and Outside the Classroom
    Distancing measures are encouraged at all stages of the school day, from open windows on buses to the maximization of space between desks. Limiting movement of students and teachers is encouraged to reduce the risk of spread across facilities.
  5. Limit Sharing
    Each child’s belongings should be used only by that child, and not shared across the community. The department also recommends expanding supply quantities to ensure each student has their own, and do not have to share.
  6. Train All Staff and Educate Families
    Train all staff in best practices to reduce the spread of infection.
  7. Check for Signs and Symptoms
    Importantly, CDPH instructs schools to prevent discrimination against students or families with members diagnosed with COVID-19. Additionally, all members of the community should stay home if they are ill or believe they may be at risk of spreading COVID-19. Screening and wellness checks should be regular and common.
  8. Plan for When a Staff Member, Child or Visitor Becomes Sick
    Should anyone at the school become ill, it is important that there are established plans of action to isolate that person and notify anyone who may have come into contact with them while maintaining confidentiality. All areas used by a sick community member must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before further use.
  9. Maintain Healthy Operations
    Schools should develop contingency plans for staffing to ensure there are sufficient trained instructors and administrators to continue normal operations. Consistent and ongoing communication with all members of the school community is vitally important at all stages of re-opening.
  10. Considerations for Partial or Total Closures
    Monitor state and local notices on daily to stay abreast of all health guidance. Should a member of the community become ill, schools should consult with local health departments to determine if a closure should occur, and at what depth.

Ultimately, each school and its community will need to review the guidance from public health officials and work internally to determine the best path to re-open. As members of school communities, families should be involved with the staff at their school, and know what steps are taken to provide a safe and healthy environment for students.

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