Covid & Classrooms, Safety Questions
We are each overflowing with questions regarding the reopening of schools. I recently listened to a discussion outlining those concerns featuring David M. Aderhold, President of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, as he discussed the safety challenges related to reopening. The original, more robust article was outlined in New Jersey Spotlight. Below is a list of questions applicable to the situation of classrooms nationwide. Consider the following questions to be open-ended and/or rhetorical at this point.
School System Reopening Questions
1. Who gets to determine the acceptable risk of foreseeable harm, illness, and potentially death in our public schools should we return from virtual instruction to in-person instruction?
2. What will be the criteria and parameters to reopen schools? When will we receive a reentry plan?
3. What will be the COVID-19 testing protocols for students, staff, visitors, etc.?
4. What will be the budgetary impacts for school districts based upon the economic challenges due to the public health crisis?
5. If someone in the school community tests positive for COVID-19, what will be the next required steps? Will schools need to be closed for deep cleaning? What will the requirements be for contact tracing and testing? How long will staff or students need to be quarantined?
6. If a school building or school district has a COVID-19 positive case, how long will a closure be to ensure there is no super-spread to the community?
7. Will students and staff members be required to wear masks?
8. Will accommodations be made for families who wish to keep their children home in the fall?
9. Will hybrid schedules be allowed for students and staff members?
10. Will there be modifications to our school day?
o Virtual school days?
o Staggered start times?
o Class size restrictions?
o Half-day classes?
o One-day-on, one-day-off schedules?
o Smaller class sizes?
o Hybrid model that allows for both virtual instruction or in-person instruction based upon parent selection due to concerns or medical needs of their child(ren) or family members.
11. If modified schedules are a requirement for social distancing to be implemented, will such schedules enable parents to return to work?
12. What are the financial impacts of implementing social-distancing requirements?
o Additional busing to transport fewer students per bus?
o Additional teachers needed for social-distance classrooms?
o Additional nursing staff?
13. Do school districts have the infrastructure to meet the social-distancing requirements?
14. Will school districts have the funding to meet the physical modifications and additional personal protective equipment (PPE) needed?
15. What equipment and supplies will be required to make schools safe? Hand sanitizer, face masks, PPE, cleaning supplies, gloves, etc.?
16. Since students need to eat and drink during lunch, won’t all safety protocols be violated during that time when all students must remove masks?
17. Will isolation rooms be needed in nursing offices for students or staff with fevers? If so, what are the specifications needed and how long will the physical modifications of these spaces take?
18. Is the expectation that students and teachers will be wearing masks reasonable? Many students have sensory issues, asthma, or special needs that would make wearing a mask for extended periods of times exceedingly difficult.
19. Must we do a temperature scan prior to students boarding a school bus? If so, who is going to do this?
20. Will there be standardized screening protocols for staff and students entering school buildings? If so, who will do that?
21. How will we teach programs that require hands-on interactions in proximity, such as robotics, woodworking, culinary arts, and fashion design?
22. Should we require a COVID-19 test for any student or staff member exhibiting symptoms?
23. How do we socially distance on our buses? Will buses run half-empty to increase social distancing? What will be the cleaning protocols for buses? How frequently will this need to occur?
24. How do you socially distance a bus stop?
25. Based upon the average age and the persistent shortage of bus drivers, will there be enough bus drivers available to transport all students in the fall?
26. How will school arrival look in the future?
o Will students be permitted to enter the building to mass holding areas as was done prior to the pandemic in most schools?
o Will schools need to conduct temperature checks at school entrance ways? How many staff members will be needed to accomplish this?
27. How will school districts assess, grade, and provide feedback to students during an extended closure?
28. Will antibody testing be available for staff members and students? If so, who will administer such testing? What are the implications for HIPAA and confidentiality rights?
29. What will music classrooms look like in fall 2020?
o Spit valves on brass instruments?
o Choir classrooms with vapor particles?
o What does band class look like?
o What about concerts?
30. How do you socially distance physical education classes?
o How do you socially distance locker rooms for gym classrooms?
31. Based upon the National Federation of State High School Associations’ guidance from the Sports Medical Council, how can we safely open athletics in fall 2020?
32. Will students have recess in the future? How frequently will schools need to clean the recess equipment?
33. What protocols will be required for athletic facilities to be maintained and cleaned due to the coronavirus (including surface areas, turf fields, sports equipment, etc.)?
34. How frequently will school equipment need to be sterilized? What guidelines will be utilized? What industry standards will be used?
35. Will there be enhanced cleaning protocols for school buses? If so, based upon what criteria and to what specifications?
36. Will COVID-19 increase the need for additional custodial staffing, nursing, security staff, etc.?
37. Will any changes be required as we implement school district lock down or evacuation plans?
38. What will cafeterias look like in fall 2020? How will students pick up and receive meals? Will lunch lines need to be socially distanced? If cafeterias are not used, will meals be served at classroom desks? If in classrooms, there will be coverage concerns as there are not enough lunch aides to cover all classrooms.
39. What will the social-distancing guidelines look like in schools? How many feet between students will be required?
40. How will middle school and high school students report to lockers given social distancing requirements?
41. Will school districts allow or be allowed to offer extra-curricular activities that require mass gatherings to occur during the 2020-2021 school year (indoor track tournaments, robotic tournaments, school musicals/plays, field trips, basketball tournaments)?
42. Will guest speakers be allowed in the future?
43. What protocols will visitors need to go through? Will school nurses be responsible for taking the temperature of every visitor to a school? If so, how is that even remotely possible without a massive increase in medical personnel in schools?
44. How will schools govern the entry and exiting of buildings and the movement throughout school buildings?
45. What liability will school districts have should students, staff, or visitors become ill due to a COVID-19 outbreak that is traced back to a school district? What will be the impact on liability insurance? Ultimately, such decisions will come at taxpayer expense.
46. As the fall brings illnesses such as the flu, respiratory infections, and whooping cough, will modifications be required to medical exclusion policies?
47. Will union/association contracts need to be reopened to seek modifications to provide for flexibility in the implementation of varied school schedules?
48. What professional development needs will school districts have to assist their teachers’ enhancement of virtual instructional practices?
49. Will school facilities be reopened to public use on evenings and weekends? If so, what safety requirements will need to be put in place?
50. We can safely assume that there will be some parents who will refuse to send their students to school in the fall. As such, will districts be allowed by the state to run both in-school and remote programs? If so, there are budgetary, contractual, legal, policy, and staffing considerations that demand time and attention to think through now.