Many parents already know their answer to this question. They either feel that the benefits of in-person instruction outweigh health concerns in their community, or that there are too many questions surrounding safety in the school environment to send them back. Unfortunately for many families who would like to have options, there is no choice to make. They are constrained by job requirements or their schools do not offer a choice. For those that do have options and are agonizing over their decision, we offer a few things to consider.
Covid-19 in Your Community
Before you consider conditions within your specific school community, you should look at the community at large. What is the current status of Covid-19 spread in your community? Are you in a hot zone with high test positivity and reproduction rates? In the opposite scenario, are these metrics indicating a slowing of the spread? Has your community attained a test positivity rate and reproduction rate that meet local standards for a return to school? Answering these questions will begin to provide you with data about the possibility and probability that the virus could enter your school community. In truth, school administrators should base their decision-making partly on these measures. You may want to educate yourself on these metrics to determine whether or you not you agree with their assumptions.
In-School Procedures and Protocols
Does the school have a daily screening process? Are the students screened? Is the screening done before the students come to school or after they get there? Are all adults screened on a daily basis? What is your school’s visitor policy? Even though most young people may be asymptomatic, most health experts recommend screening as a tool to narrow the field of potentially infected individuals. The visitor policy should be much more restrictive than in a non-Covid environment.
What are your school’s procedures for student drop-off, entering, and exiting the buildings? Is social distancing required, facilitated, and enforced? Are parents allowed in the school buildings at drop-off and pick-up? Are they screened before entering? Are masks required from the exiting of vehicles to entering vehicles at dismissal? As with all of the questions included in this article, you may not feel that some of the forgoing is necessary. However, the more detailed the information you receive on school procedures, the more assured you can be that you are making the right decision for your child.
Has the school planned for non-class times at school? Will social distancing be required and enforced in the hallways? What is the restroom policy? Are there limits to the number of students that can be in a restroom at any one time? How is this enforced? What is the school’s transportation policy? Will the capacity of busses be limited and social distancing enforced? What are the school’s breakfast and lunch policies? Will there be more lunch periods to reduce the number of students in the cafeteria at any one time? Will social distancing be monitored in waiting lines?
Does the school have a policy for extra-curricular activities? What are the procedures for athletics and band? Will locker rooms be utilized? How will participants be monitored? How will commonly-touched items be cleaned and disinfected, and how often? What are the school’s policies for events? Will there be spectators? Will the number of spectators be limited and how? Will there be social distancing in spectator areas. How will this be monitored?
What is the school’s detailed plan for dealing with students and adults who feel ill in the course of the day? Will they be isolated from the school population? What happens in classrooms when someone falls ill and leaves for the clinic? Is that class relocated and the room disinfected? Is the clinic sufficiently staffed and are there isolation areas? Will the student and/or adult who may be symptomatic for Covid-19 be sent home? How will clinic personnel decide if the symptoms are Covid-related? What is the procedure for a return to school for the symptomatic individual? Are Covid-19 tests or medical professional assessments required before a return?
When the school is notified of a positive test for Covid-19 within the school population, are parents informed? Does the school have a policy for contact tracing? Will parents be notified if it is determined that their child may have been in close contact with an infected individual?
What are the school’s policies for keeping the school facilities clean and disinfected? What methods does the school employ? How often are they done? In the course of a school day, will desks or table tops and other classroom areas be cleaned and disinfected? Are cleaning and disinfecting supplies provided to all classrooms and offices? Have there been any modifications to the school’s HVAC equipment? What are they doing to ensure that air flow is as free of virus particles as possible?
What is the school’s plan for continuous student education on mask wearing, social distancing, and personal hygiene like handwashing and sanitizing? Does the school have sufficient signage throughout the school buildings? Are there hand sanitizing stations throughout the buildings?
Decision-making on the relative safety of the school environment must take into account the inevitability of system breakdowns. Even perfect planning cannot mitigate all of the actions of human beings, especially young people. Has the school identified as many of those potential areas as possible? Does it have a plan for mitigating breakdowns as they occur?
In the event the teaching staff is affected by quarantines and resulting absenteeism, is the school sufficiently staffed for teacher replacement with qualified personnel? What data points and metrics will the school employ to determine when and if a return to all remote learning is required?
We do not claim that this article represents a complete checklist for parent decision-making on students’ possible return to school campuses. It is only hoped that it is helpful in cases where parents have the option and must decide between continued remote or in-person instruction and learning.