Safety Tips for In-School Learning
Living through the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for everyone, requiring people to adapt their routines by limiting in-person social gatherings and holding work meetings via webcam. But one group that’s been particularly affected by all of the required changes is students. Studies show that remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic has already had a detrimental impact on students’ social, physical, and emotional health. This is especially bad for teens, who need human interaction to help them figure out their identities in relation to their peers.
Many students are also reliant on schools for more concrete needs. Healthy meals, which can affect both mood and immune function, are sometimes not available in students’ homes. Also, schools can provide a refuge from violence in the home. For all of these reasons, it’s important for society to bring students back into the classrooms to learn in a safe setting.
But for schools to welcome students through their doors safely, it’s important to follow the proper protocols to keep students and teachers as protected from COVID-19 as possible. Schools must adhere to the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by limiting physical interactions and preventing group exposure in the event that someone does become infected. Parents also need to adapt to make sure that good safety practices are followed in the home and in preparation for the school day. Ultimately, it’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure that our schools are safe places to get an education.
When in Doubt, Stay Home
- Parents should become familiar with COVID-19 symptoms and monitor their children for the first signs of the disease. If any COVID-19 symptoms arise (such as fever, loss of taste/smell, sore throat, and/or trouble breathing), students should be kept home until they receive a negative test result.
- Even without symptoms, any known exposure to a COVID-positive individual should be treated as a potential infection until you can be tested. It’s important to remember that even if a person is asymptomatic, they can still spread COVID-19 to others.
- Taking students’ and teachers’ temperatures before they head off to school or upon entering the school can ensure that they don’t have the typical first symptom of COVID-19, a fever. Vigilant monitoring of students for signs of infection throughout the school day can help to contain an outbreak.
- If a student or staff member does start showing symptoms, they should be isolated immediately. After the person leaves the school campus, wait 24 hours before someone enters to disinfect the area.
Maintain Social Distancing in Learning Environments
- It’s important for schools to reduce potential transmission by maintaining social distancing, keeping people at least six feet apart in classrooms, halls, and other areas where students and teachers typically congregate. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that desk spacing of three feet apart (with proper mask-wearing) may be sufficient in cases where classroom size is limited.
- Adding physical barriers such as portable room dividers can also be helpful to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. Clear plastic dividers between students and teachers can protect both sides while allowing the teacher to be visually and audibly available during lessons.
- Class sizes should be limited to cut down the number of people who could potentially be in the same room as someone with the illness.
- Activities like recess and humanities classes should also be conducted in small groups whenever possible.
- Schools can mark the floors of hallways and stairs with one-way arrows to cut down on cross-traffic and mingling. Strips of tape on the floor can also be used to show the proper six-foot distance in places where students might need to wait in line.
- The CDC recommends either eliminating lockers or assigning them in staggered groups.
Minimize Student Movement
- Staggered class start and end times can significantly reduce the amount of people moving between classrooms.
- If students need to change instructors, have the teachers move instead of the students to reduce the number of individuals walking around in the hallways.
- Schools should consider keeping students in their classrooms during lunch rather than sending them to the cafeteria.
- During travel to and from school, assigned seats on buses can help to keep students isolated and still.
Wear a Mask to Reduce Exposure to Airborne Particles
- Masks should be worn at all times by students and teachers unless they are eating or drinking. Both laboratory droplet experiments and COVID-19 spread statistics have shown a much lower infection rate when masks are worn consistently.
- Parents should make a habit of packing masks with their students every day so that they aren’t forgotten. Schools need to be prepared with boxes of disposable masks for students who forget to bring their own.
- Putting a student’s name on their mask helps to personalize it and lessens the potential for loss or accidental mask-swapping. Similarly, while masks are quickly becoming fashion accessories, parents need to advise their children never to trade them with other students.
Maintain Healthy Environments and Strong Immune Systems
- Teachers and students should reduce the risk of becoming weakened by other illnesses during the pandemic by getting their seasonal flu shot and requiring students to be up to date on their vaccines. There is some initial evidence that the seasonal flu shot may even lessen the severity of COVID-19 if a person is exposed.
- Students and teachers can help keep themselves strong against infection by eating vitamin-rich and immune-boosting foods. Schools should be conscious of including such foods in school-provided lunches.
- Students and teachers with high-risk medical conditions should take extra precautions against infection. When possible, these students and staff should use remote learning rather than being present in the school building.
- Handwashing should be routine for all students and staff.
- Districts need to establish a school cleaning plan that follows state and federal guidelines; all surfaces must be regularly disinfected throughout each school.