Guidelines for reopening school in the wake of COVID-19. | AASA Central
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Action Steps for Guiding Principle 1

from the AASA COVID-19 Recovery Task Force

Establish Consistent Guidelines to Address Multiple Scenarios and Contingencies to Ensure the Health, Safety and Well-Being of All Students and Staff

District leaders and their staffs must plan for multiple potential reopening scenarios and anticipate the potential contingency issues that will emerge with each scenario. A majority of the districts represented by task force superintendents are planning for a combination of potential opening approaches, including:

  • Traditional in-person education (which many superintendents agreed may not be feasible within traditional August-September opening schedules);
  • Virtual education as a primary educational delivery system;
  • Staggered schedules (e.g., A-Week/B-Week; half-day schedules with alternating groups of students in attendance) to limit number of students within the physical building to reinforce distancing guidelines; and
  • Eclectic designs in which students requiring intense in-person support (e.g., Special Education, English Learners, specialized programs such as Career and Technology Education) will be at the physical site while others receive their education using online/virtual formats.

Additionally, the task force supports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations that universal guidelines and protocols be in place, regardless of the scenario adopted by the district or region. In partnership with local health officials, district leaders must assess the current level of mitigation needed based on levels of COVID-19 community transmission and the capacities of the local public health and healthcare systems.

For each of these contingencies and potential scenarios, the task force strongly recommends that schools and districts ensure resources for the protection of students and staff during the duration of the COVID-19 crisis; adequate supplies of personal protective equipment; and ongoing sanitation and decontamination of classrooms and school buildings. Participating superintendents were in consensus about the need for universal protocols and guiding principles for ensuring the safety and well-being of returning students, staff and families. According to international comparison studies published by the Learning Policy Institute, these protocols and principles should include the following:

Clearly Articulated Attendance Policies: The multiple scenarios that school districts may face during reopening will require flexibility in attendance policies and practices. At-risk students and staff may need accommodations to remain in their homes, increasing the need for universal access to internet and related educational technologies for those engaged in distance learning.

School Closure and Quarantine Procedures: Task force participants confirmed that district leaders must develop contingency plans for closing classrooms or schools in the event that students or staff contract COVID-19. This process will necessitate efficient health screening procedures, quarantine protocols, and clearly articulated criteria to determine if school closings are needed. This process will involve a multi-faceted communication plan that ensures all staff, families and community members are informed of closures and quarantines.

Hygiene and Cleaning Procedures: In addition to reinforcing handwashing as a key priority, school and district staff must ensure that there is ongoing cleaning and sanitation of commonly touched surfaces to mitigate the virus. The range of potential sanitation, health and hygiene requirements emerging from highly interactive settings in which social distancing may be challenging compounds the need to address these issues. For example, what hygiene and cleaning procedures are necessary when students are sharing equipment, supplies, textbooks and related resources?

Health Screening: This issue will become a major challenge for reopening schools and districts, regardless of the scenario they are confronting. Procedures will include temperature checks and assurances that students or staff exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms do not enter buildings.

Social-Distancing Protocols: Both the CDC and the World Health Organization suggest keeping individuals at a six-foot distance from one another and reducing the number of people with whom an individual interacts directly. Protocols for social distancing may require reducing class size, keeping students in a stable homeroom class with teachers circulating, seating students farther apart, and reducing large-size events such as assemblies and sporting events. Key issues to focus on include: (1) arrival protocols; (2) mealtimes, recreation, and transportation; and (3) unique challenges in classes and programs requiring a high degree of student interaction and proximity as well as experiential learning (e.g., art activities, physical education, music, Career and Technical Education).

According to the CDC, schools and districts can reduce exposure risks by addressing three action planning processes:

1. Develop a Cleaning and Disinfection Plan for All Buildings and Classrooms:

  • Determine what needs to be cleaned. Areas unoccupied for seven or more days need only routine cleaning. Also, maintain existing cleaning practices for outdoor areas.
  • Determine how areas will be disinfected. Consider the type of surface and how often the surface is touched. Prioritize disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.
  • Consider the resources and equipment needed. Keep in mind the availability of cleaning products and personal protective equipment (PPE) appropriate for cleaners and disinfectants.

 

2. Implement the Plan with Consistency and Quality Control Measures:

  • Clean visibly dirty surfaces with soap and water prior to disinfection.
  • Use the appropriate cleaning or disinfectant product. Use an EPA-approved disinfectant against COVID-19 and read the label to ensure it meets your needs.
  • Always follow the directions on the label. The label will include safety information and application instructions. Keep disinfectants out of the reach of children.

 

3. Maintain the Plan Throughout the Academic Year, Revising as Needed:

  • Continue routine cleaning and disinfection. Continue or revise your plan based on appropriate disinfectant and PPE availability. Dirty surfaces should be cleaned with soap and water prior to disinfection. Routinely disinfect frequently touched surfaces at least daily.
  • Maintain safe practices such as frequent handwashing, using cloth face coverings and staying home if you are sick.
  • Continue practices that reduce the potential for exposure. Maintain social distancing, staying six feet away from others. Reduce sharing of common spaces and frequently touched objects.