Social distancing, face coverings, and new transportation procedures—opening school during COVID requires careful planning

A lesson plan like no other: Preparing schools during a pandemic


Social distancing, face coverings, and new transportation procedures—opening school during COVID requires careful planning

For learning, we are using Google Classroom and associated support applications as our learning management system (LMS). The Google LMS integrates with other Google apps such as Google Drive and Google Meet and provides a way for parents to connect to classes for communication with the teacher. In addition to Google Classroom, we are planning to utilize web and app-based communication tools ClassDojo and Remind.

The district also uses a school messenger alert system (phone, text, email, and a website-linked app) to communicate with all stakeholders – staff, students, parents, and community. We provide news items and front-page alerts on our district website and our district-managed Facebook page.

Regarding in-person communication, per NYSED and DOH guidelines, students will have to wear face coverings on the bus and throughout the school day, except with certain exceptions such as lunch or other activities when they are safely socially distanced from classmates and teachers. We have discussed some of the challenges that opaque cloth masks could pose, particularly for students who may have learning, behavior, and physical challenges like hearing loss. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) noted that transparent face shields could be an effective face covering option, provided they extend below the chin and to the ears, without any exposed gap between the forehead and the shield’s headpiece.

In addition, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) noted that cloth masks may muffle sound, take away from the ability to read lips and facial expressions, and may be physically uncomfortable for those who wear hearing aids or have cochlear implants.

Therefore, we have been considering integrating the use of the TrueHero Extreme Coverage Face Shield, which meets the above criteria and provides other benefits (e.g., easily sanitized, lightweight, comfortable, fully adjustable, made in the USA) for students and staff.

Transportation

Assuming there will be in-person learning this year, another logistics challenge is ensuring students’ safety from the time they leave their houses to when they return home.

A health screening protocol has been considered that will require parents to take students’ temperatures at home and acknowledge that their students have no COVID-19 symptoms via a real-time app or other applicable communication channel each day. Although not required, we will have a second round of temperature checks using thermal screening devices for all students and staff upon arrival at school.

A part of the journey on the way to school is on the school bus – approximately 80 percent of our students come to our schools this way. Social distancing on the buses could be achieved by strategically sitting students six feet apart. We have also been consulting with a local plastics manufacturer, Jamestown Plastics, on customized solutions for our buses that can offer an extended barrier between seats and protection around the bus driver’s seat as students board and disembark. Finally, we are considering staggering bus loading and unloading times to manage the flow of students entering the building.

Common areas outside the classroom

Recognizing that breaks are important throughout the school day, we are considering how common areas, such as the cafeteria, may be utilized while adhering to guidelines. In addition to reducing the number of students at each table to maintain social distancing, physical plastic barriers are also under consideration. The Divide&Conquer Table Shield is one option that we have reviewed for this purpose and to use in other areas, such as the front office and school nurse’s office. That way students can still feel connected, while remaining apart with an extra layer of protection. We are also evaluating rearranged lunch schedules to allow for staggered crossing of classes in the hallways and cleaning times between each group, if eating in the cafeteria.

As we close in on the start of the upcoming school year, we will all need to once again tap into our reserves of perseverance, flexibility, and resolve as COVID-19 continues to impact our daily lives. The return of students to our school campus will hopefully bring some degree of normalcy to all of our lives. We will continue to work diligently and collaboratively on our plan, ensuring that the health, safety and well-being of our students, staff, and extended school community is our core focus for any reopening decision.

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