Reopening Schools during COVID19
COVID19 continues to change what was once healthy and safe. Infection numbers continue to grow along with the hope for a vaccine. Meanwhile, the question of the day is should we reopen schools despite the statistics. Some say yes, and others say no to reopening. Then you hear barking orders, “Open schools or I will deny funding.” It’s like choosing the blue pill or the red pill for school leaders. It is a scary decision to make. However, here’s what you need to do if you’re being forced to reopen your school building.
How Educators Feel
First, let’s look at how educators across the country feel about reopening schools. According to the National Association of Secondary School Principals, only one-third of the U.S. principals feel confident in their school’s chance to “preserve students and staff’s health. An Edweek Research Center survey shows that 65 percent of teachers, principals, and district leaders expressed a similar sentiment, saying that school buildings should remain closed to slow the disease’s spread. The remaining 35 percent say the U.S. should open up schools and get the country going again, even if more people would get the coronavirus. There aren’t many educators feel comfortable to open schools in the fall.
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Principals’ Concerns About Reopening Schools
Concerns of principals and school leaders are legitimate. One challenge is maintaining the six feet of social distancing regulations in classrooms, lunchrooms, and school buses. The size of a regular classroom is approximately 900-950 square feet. If there are 20-30 students in a classroom, it does not leave much room for social distancing. Whether it is high school, middle school, or elementary students, getting them to comply with wearing a mask all-day will be interesting. Imagine trying to keep masks on kindergarten and first-grade students for six or more hours. God bless primary teachers! Another concern is managing the students’ entrance and exit procedures. How do you get 500 or more students in and out of the building and maintain good health and safety precautions?
Health and Safety of Staff
Next, a big concern is teachers’ health and safety, school staff, bus drivers, etc. Some employees have immunocompromised systems. What about staff members over the age of 50? Many teachers will not want to return due to fear of catching the virus. Some will retire if they have enough years to leave. Will schools have a mass exodus of teachers and aides? Are there enough substitute teachers to cover because the need will be higher? Principals, it is much to ponder, and it is overwhelming. What’s worse is that your opinion and knowledge is overlooked by those making the decisions. Instead of looking at the red or blue pill, try to be prepared for reopening your school.
Prepare to Reopen Your School
The CDC created two critical documents to reference, Considerations for Schools, and Considerations for K-12 Schools: Readiness and Planning Tool. Read, review, and use these documents to plan for the inevitable. The great thing about both is they specify the five areas you need to focus on to prepare the reopening.
Policies and Procedures
The first area to concentrate on is policies and procedures. After reviewing the CDC’s considerations, learn your district’s plans and expectations. Remember, every school is different. You must determine how to adapt the recommendations and expectations for your school. If you need clarity, do not be afraid to ask the district office. Document your written and verbal conversations with the district office personnel or officials. Always CYA (cover your anatomy) when making in making important decisions and discussing essential procedures.
Facilities and Supplies
Next, the second area is to focus on facilities and supplies. When schools reopen, cleaning must be round the clock. Principals, we know that kids put their hands everywhere. Although students should wear masks, they will cough and sneeze, wipe their noses, and then touch desks, doors, and more. Yuck! We know our kids! Since constant cleaning is mandatory, you must ensure the supplies are plentiful. Don’t forget that you need an abundance of masks in your supply room, too.
Know your budget and what you can afford. Advocate for more funds if needed. You need to order and plan to have on hand, soap, sanitizers, disinfectants, paper towels, tissues, etc. Meet with the building engineer and janitors to coordinate and create a schedule, expectations, and protocols. Also, review the district’s policies and expectations about cleaning and sanitizing the schools.
Educating and Training
Thirdly, educating and training students, staff, and families is crucial. Operating schools after COVID19 is something entirely new to all stakeholders. Principals must provide time for all to learn new procedures and processes. For example, social distancing is a very new concept for students of all ages. Consequently, teach it and model frequently. Explain to students why social distancing is a necessity and the new normal. Inform and educate parents about the new rules for visitors and meeting protocols. Train all staff on safety protocols.
Communication and Messaging
The fourth area is communication and messaging the new information and procedures. While providing training is essential, develop, and send written communications to inform or remind all stakeholders of policies and procedures. Update websites with the same valuable information. Post signs or posters throughout the building. Remember to cover your anatomy (CYA) and document, document, and document!
Social Groups and Gatherings
The last and fifth area of priority is gatherings, visitors, and events. Field trips, assemblies, sports events, and school-wide activities are changed forever. Principals, review the local and state policies about gatherings. How many people can gather in one space? What are the safety precautions to take when having social groups and gatherings at the school? If you plan an outdoor or indoor activity, can you ensure social distancing is possible? Seek approval from your district before having any school event.
More to Consider Before Reopening
Here are more things to consider if you are forced to reopen your school. Again know the school district’s policies and CDC’s considerations. Survey staff, parents, and students to gauge their feelings and opinions. Advocate for them and yourself, too. Think about what you are willing to sacrifice if and when schools reopen. Ask yourself which is more critical for you; financial security, or health security.
What pill will you choose, blue or red?
It’s Way Too Much to Take On
Most Educators Want Schools to Stay Closed to Slow Spread of COVID-19
Considerations for Schools
Considerations for K-12 Schools: Readiness and Planning Tool
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