The first day of the 2020–2021 school year will not be like any other. Now is the time to create and mobilize your School Reopening Task Force. This group must prepare and execute a detailed plan that prioritizes safety and continuity for your faculty, staff, students, and families.
Your school’s plan serves as the foundation for a safe reopening and for the school year. Today, we’re sharing some things to consider.
Planning Modification and Facility Zoning for Physical Distancing
We are all familiar with physical distancing recommendations. But ensuring your students, faculty, and staff can maintain this distance requires thoughtful planning.
Look to other organizations and institutions for helpful benchmarks. Investigate how office buildings have revamped their commercial spaces. Consult with colleges similar in size and location to your school. Many international schools have already begun reopening; look to them for options.
When it comes to your plans, you might:
- Create specific zones for on-campus cohorts to limit crossover between groups as they move throughout the day.
- Use stickers, tape, and signage to identify where people should walk and designate how far apart they should be.
- Identify locations for indoor and outdoor hand sanitizer stations.
- Consider installing sinks with soap dispensers where possible.
Reorganize classrooms to use only 21–38% of the space to reduce density. This dramatic change requires creative solutions, such as using spaces like gyms and auditoriums differently, modifying schedules to accommodate more sections of a class, holding weekend sessions, and developing hybrid classes. In some cases, you can use temporary spaces, such as outdoor event tents.
Schools must maintain a supply of PPE. Encourage parents’ cooperation and support for this initiative. The aim is for students to bring their own PPE from home, with your school providing backup resources if and when needed. This allows you to be the primary supplier for higher volume roles, such as food service.
Make policy decisions about who is required to wear masks, gloves, or both, and under which circumstances. You should also decide how often to revisit and update these guidelines.
Transportation will change significantly. If your school typically buses students, you may choose not to continue. If busing is unavoidable, a modified schedule, additional buses, or a combination of both can reduce student density to appropriate physical distance.
Cordon off seats to ensure students sit far enough apart. Do not overlook the need for transportation to and from athletic events and field trips. You might consider canceling these events if safe transportation is not available.
Supplies and Equipment
Many of these initiatives require new supplies and equipment. For instance, do you have no-touch fixtures in your restrooms and dorms? Do you have foot pedals and wrist handles for doors to avoid touching these highly trafficked items? The Reopening Task Force should decide if these items are necessary and work now to make needed adjustments.
Masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, cleaning equipment and chemicals, and dispensers are all in demand. It is unlikely your usual supply chain will meet that demand. You might consider working with neighboring schools to buy goods at a wholesale price and distribute accordingly. Identifying new suppliers and monitoring and tracking orders should be an assigned responsibility. You do not want lost orders and a lack of supplies to interrupt operations.
Tune in to live webinars every week during the school year to get specific, research-backed insight you can immediately apply at your school.
Health and Hygiene
Assess your current campus healthcare. You may need to create new roles for response management, compliance, and reporting. Have backup personnel for healthcare roles. If you don’t have an MD on staff—or at least on call—make that connection or consider bringing in a physician. In the unfortunate event of illness on campus, your standard infirmary won’t be sufficient. Be prepared with medical isolation stations.
Your school nurse and any other medical personnel will need to discuss preventive measures with the student body. Make arrangements for information sessions.
How you implement screening procedures is as important as what measures you choose. If you are planning to do temperature checks, consider not only where, when, and how often, but what equipment you will need. Your process may include periodic health surveys or point of entry screening. If you have students coming into dormitories, you may consider implementing a pre-admission quarantine policy.
Cleaning and Sanitation
Cleaning and disinfection are not straightforward. There are levels of cleaning, sanitizing, disinfection, and sterilization required for different situations.
The EPA has guidelines for equipment and chemicals needed in each case, including specific product recommendations. Your cleaning staff must understand your new procedures. If you outsource your cleaning services, do not assume. Make sure they are trained as well.
New roles and responsibilities require new staff as well as training for existing employees. The Reopening Task Force should assign a current staff member to the role of Pandemic Safety Coordinator to ensure protocols are communicated.
This individual is responsible for putting proper signage in place and helping students understand the new rules and follow directions. This person must make sure screening stations are in place and safety protocols are being followed.
The federal government has released Opening Up America Again guidelines for employers. This resource includes recommendations on screening, sanitation, and physical distancing. There are also guidelines for monitoring your workforce and instructions on how to conduct contact tracing.
Communicating new procedures and expectations is essential. The Reopening Task Force must guarantee open and frequent communication with all stakeholders. Make it a priority for your faculty, staff, students, and families to feel included in your reopening process. Make sure everyone understands the new health and hygiene guidelines.
The most efficient way to inform the entire school community is through virtual town halls. Have your Reopening Task Force directors and coordinators lead the conversations, and include medical professionals.
Invite the entire school community and use the time to explain reopening policies and procedures. If you have a website with a COVID-19 landing page, update your site to provide reopening information.
No one can know what shape the pandemic will take in future months. Prepare now for various scenarios. Delayed reaction to changing circumstances could have serious consequences. Your school’s prepared response and successful efforts to protect the community are assets that can be incorporated into positive public relations when this crisis has passed.
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