Just seven months ago, millions of children in the K-12 education system sat in a classroom, waiting for the bell to release them from school. No one expected the arrival of Coronavirus, a virus that cancelled graduations, isolated students, and completely transitioned them to online learning.
Re-opening schools this school year lies in the hands of local and state governments and school administrators. Instructional formats such as class size and daily schedule will look different than before.
This blog breaks down CDC recommendations and “Georgia’s Path to Recovery” for reopening schools to prevent the spread of Coronavirus.
Why the urgency for schools to re-open?
Schools play an important role in supporting the social and emotional health of students. They create routines for students, especially for those who rely on support services offered by schools. These services include tutoring, specialized learning supports, school meal programs, and medical and behavioral services. Schools also create roles of employment for educators, parents, and guardians.
For many re-opening advocates, in-person learning increases communication between faculty, teachers, and students, and provide critical services. The CDC emphasizes the importance of social interaction on children’s emotional wellbeing, communication, and interpersonal skills.
The CDC isn’t opposed to reopening in districts with lower levels of community transmission. School administrators and local/state officials ultimately determine the status of reopening in school district. The CDC recommends specific requirements for reopening.
Understanding the level of community transmission in a school district is the first step to reopening. The levels range from substantial, uncontrolled transmission, which calls for shelter in place, to no to minimal community transmission, which calls for low mitigation.
Administrators should collaborate with their local health department to understand the status of COVID-19 transmission in the community. The CDC recommends creating a proactive plan in collaboration with the officials and receiving regular updates about coronavirus cases in the community.
The CDC requires reopening schools to:
- Develop a plan
- Know what frequently touched surfaces and materials require cleaning and/or disinfecting
- Develop a flexible plan with the staff
- Communicate the plan with the staff, students, and community
- Implement the plan
- Carry out plan while following cleaning and disinfectant manufacturer’s instructions
- Use protective materials, like gloves
- Choose an EPA-approved disinfectant
- Maintain and revise the plan
- Update plan based on ongoing Coronavirus updates and community circumstances
- Continue routine cleaning and disinfecting
- Maintain healthy hygiene habits
Mitigation strategies in schools would reduce or prevent local transmission of Coronavirus. Some of the options for mitigation include:
Social distancing in:
- Shared spaces
Healthy hygiene habits
- Proper hand washing
- Using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
- Wearing a face covering
- Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces
- Stagger schedules
- Offer different educational options (in-person, virtual, hybrid)
- Plan for staff and teacher absences
- Communication – inform families and staff on preparation, strategies, and any positive cases
Cohorting, or “podding,” keeps students in one group through the school day. With the goal of limiting contact between students, this ultimately limits the transmission of COVID-19. This also prevents disturbance in the school and community if someone tests positive.
Due to the novelty of the virus, evidence is limited on the effects of cohorting. The CDC believes this strategy will ensure more efficient contact tracing through target testing.
The CDC highly recommends creating systems to support students outside of school if they need to isolate or quarantine. Examples includes:
- Continued online learning
- School meals for virtual students
- Disability services
What about Georgia schools reopening?
"Georgia's Path to Recovery for K-12 Schools” outlines a “blueprint for safe reopening that is realistic in the K-12 setting,” states Richard Woods, the Georgia state school superintendent. It’s meant specifically for Georgia’s school districts as a guide that places its focus on the health and physical requirements necessary for reopening schools.
It includes the “District Decision Tree,” which provides a flexible foundation for K-12 educational officials to develop plans for their specific district. This tool includes three options for Georgia schools.
- Temporary closure – Instructional model of distance for remote learning
- Enhanced Mitigation Measures – Instructional model outlines traditional in-class, hybrid, or full distance/remote learning
- Preventative Practices –Traditional in-class instructional model