School is more than academics. At school, children learn social and emotional skills, get regular exercise, and have access to mental health services, healthy meals, internet access, and more. Many of these things can’t be provided through online learning, and for some children, school is the only place they receive these things consistently.
For these reasons, it is vital that kids go back to school if they can. But in order for parents to feel safe sending their kids to school, every school district needs to have a clearly written, well-thought-out COVID-19 plan and effectively communicate that plan to parents and guardians. Every school’s plan should include:
1. Strategies to Reduce the Spread
Reducing the spread of COVID-19 is a vital part of maintaining a safe and healthy school environment for kids, teachers, and staff alike. At minimum, schools should institute the following:
- Mask requirements - With a few exceptions, the CDC recommends that all kids, teachers, and staff wear cloth face coverings throughout the school day.
- Hand hygiene - Frequent hand washing with soap and water, regular use of hand sanitizer, and encouraging kids not to touch their faces will help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
- Distancing - Keep desks at least 3ft apart (but preferably 6ft if space allows), reducing class sizes to accommodate this. Consider implementing the use of room dividers or partitions to divide larger spaces like cafeterias and auditoriums to use as extra classrooms if needed.
2. Strategies to Maintain a Healthy Environment
Keeping your school buildings clean and well-ventilated will also help reduce the likelihood of spreading the virus.
Cleaning & Disinfecting
It will be necessary for schools to institute increased cleaning & disinfecting protocols in order to meet the CDC’s recommendations. High-touch surfaces such as doorknobs and bathroom surfaces should be wiped down multiple times a day. If your school has Versare room dividers or partitions, refer to our cleaning and disinfecting instructions for proper cleaning procedures.
Assess your schools’ ventilation systems and, if possible, modify them to optimize airflow in classrooms, bringing in as much fresh air as possible into the school to dilute and disperse viral particles. Also, replace your schools’ HEPA filters more often (ideally, once a month) to ensure your HVAC system’s filtration is operating at its most efficient.
3. Strategies for Safe Operations
The day-to-day operations of every school will need to be adjusted this year in order to keep kids and staff safe. Many schools are implementing the following:
- Staggered schedules - Whether this includes offering a hybrid model of schooling (with some in-class and some distance learning), or staggering lunch, recess, and class transition schedules, staggered schedules will reduce the number of kids in close proximity to one another and help maintain proper distancing.
- Pods - This involves keeping kids in the same group throughout the school day — during classes, at lunch, and for recess. Keeping kids in a small group or “pod” will help limit the number of people each child comes into contact with throughout the day, and therefore their chances of catching or transmitting the virus.
- Limit Transitions - For older students, who typically move from classroom to classroom for each subject, that transition time in crowded hallways can put them at higher risk. Instead, consider keeping students in the same room all day and having teachers move from room to room instead. Alternatively, staggering class schedules can help as well.
- Maintain Separation at Lunch - Consider having students eat lunch in the classroom, outside (weather permitting), or on a staggered schedule in the cafeteria.
- Keep Recess Safe - Getting kids outside and giving them time to play is an important part of the school day. To make things safer, stagger recess times, keeping kids in their pods. Keep recess outside as much as possible, to give them fresh air and a chance to take a mask break (if they can stay 6ft apart). Children and staff alike should wash hands immediately when they come in from recess.
- Buses at Limited Capacity - While the safest option for getting kids to school would be to have parents drop them off, that is not always possible. To keep busing safer, buses should ideally run at 50% capacity, children and drivers should stay 6ft apart, and everyone should wear masks. If weather permits, keep bus windows open to improve ventilation.
4. Strategies for When Someone Tests Positive
Even with the best prevention strategies in place, every school needs to have a clear policy for when children, teachers, or staff are sick or test positive for COVID-19. If someone receives a positive test, they should stay home from school and isolate until they have met the CDC’s criteria to discontinue home isolation. Schools should collaborate with their local health department to conduct contact tracing, and encourage all who had contact with the sick person to be tested. Schools should also close off areas used by the sick person and discontinue use of these areas until they are able to properly clean and disinfect them.
5. Clear and Effective Communication With Parents
The most important factor in helping parents feel safe sending their kids back to school is communication. Once your school has its COVID-19 policies in place, you will need to communicate them in detail to parents. Parents will want to know what school will look like for their kids this year, what the school expects of parents (such as making sure kids have masks, monitoring symptoms, and keeping sick kids home from school), what the school’s plans are for handling potential outbreaks, and any changes that are made to policies throughout the year.
Despite the best plans and preparedness, there will still be some risk for kids to contract COVID-19 at school. Depending on their comfort level with this risk, some parents may choose to do at-home learning this year instead of sending their kids to school. Your school can still serve these families well by giving parents the tools to help them make the right decision for their family. Aside from communicating your school’s policies, you can also direct them to the CDC’s School Decision-Making Tool for Parents, Caregivers, and Guardians for help making this crucial decision.
Parents need to know you are taking their children’s safety seriously. They need to know their schools have a solid plan in place, both for the prevention of COVID-19 and for any potential outbreaks. School administrators need to ensure their schools are as safe and healthy as possible and communicate clearly with parents to help them feel at ease with sending their kids back to school.
If your school is in need of room dividers, partitions, or other ways to divide space and help keep kids, teachers, and staff properly distanced this year, shop our online store or call us at 800-830-0210. We look forward to partnering with your school to help you have a safe and healthy 2020-21 school year.