By: Natalie Cheng
As we approach the fall semester, talk about reopening schools has become heated. How do you safely reopen schools without causing widespread infection to take over and shut down a campus?
Many schools have already opened or will be opening soon. How do you mitigate risk and decrease the spread of COVID-19? To answer that question, you need to consider several things including:
The ultimate goal for schools is to reopen and for students to return safely to in-person instruction. According to the CDC, “schools play a critical role in supporting the whole child, not just their academic achievement. In addition to a structure for learning, schools provide a stable and secure environment for developing social skills and peer relationships. Social interaction at school among children in grades PK-12 is particularly important for the development of language, communication, social, emotional, and interpersonal skills.” In addition, remote learning may hinder some students according to the New York Times as “the average American student is expected to return to school significantly behind academically, with low-income, black and Hispanic students experiencing the greatest learning losses.”
Before reopening schools, have you considered the number of reported new cases in the school’s surrounding area? It must be low enough that transmission can be controlled. In addition to this, school districts need to consider the number of students and the ability for classes to divide students into smaller groups. Also, how old is the school? Does the building have proper airflow and ventilation? Some schools such as Rice University are building outdoor structures in order to hold classes and activities. According to the Houston Chronicle, “Rice University plans to take some fall courses outdoors amid the COVID-19 pandemic and will build nine structures on campus to help maintain social distancing guidelines.”
Many schools are looking into the hybrid approach of opening schools which will include a mix of online and in-school learning. According to the New York Times, “students in Seattle are likely to go to school in person only once or twice a week, officials said. Half of Omaha’s students will attend Monday and Tuesday, and the other half Thursday and Friday, rotating Wednesdays. And Fairfax County, Va., outside Washington, said students would spend at least two days a week in class, with the rest online.”
Recently, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced a plan to reopen schools in the Houston area. She talked about tying school reopenings to the city’s current threat level. She recommended that the city focus on specific steps that can be taken at each of the threat levels. (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green) Schools should only open if they meet the lower threat levels and can implement safety practices (ex. Social Distancing).
According to Lina Hidalgo, Houston is currently at threat level red and because of this, it isn’t safe to bring back students currently. She has stated that Houston will meet the metrics sooner if people stay home and follow the guidance. She also announced a program to provide online devices and access to local children so that school districts wouldn't have to worry about providing that themselves. All students should have access to online learning from the Harris County Public Health department.
So what comes next? As the fall season approaches, if you’re a school leader and have the enormous task of deciding how to best reopen a school, consider the four things above along with specific state and federal guidelines. Depending on your location, the number of cases will vary and impact your school’s decision.
Beyond just protecting the students and teachers, schools also need to remember to protect its support staff, custodial employees, and any additional contractors or people that will be going to the school/campus. In addition, special considerations must be taken for students that are more vulnerable or at-risk (ex. Have a medical condition or living with someone that does, etc.). The ultimate goal is to keep everyone safe and healthy.
Are you looking for guidance on opening your school safely? Contact us and we will be happy to guide you through the process.
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