By Erin Werra
Two truths remain as educators continue to navigate the pandemic: change is constant, and so is their unyielding commitment to student and staff safety. Schools are (rightfully) in different stages of hybrid, virtual, or in-person learning. As we all move toward the goal of reuniting all students safely in classrooms, let’s explore considerations for building safety.
Who (Really, Truly) Needs to Come In?
Restricting school buildings runs counterculture to our typical public school system in some ways. It used to be vetted visitors were welcome, even encouraged. Now, every visitor could carry an unwelcome guest without their knowledge.
School buildings are still havens to families in need of services. However, it is reasonable and prudent to restrict access to buildings as school resumes throughout the country. This adds yet another layer of protection to the people who need in-person school most: early childhood learners, special education students, students for whom home is unsafe or otherwise unsuitable for learning, and the dedicated teachers and staff who are tenuously opening their own family bubble. The least we can do to thank them for their service is to make good on the promise of a clean, mindful space to work.
This careful vetting of visitors serves an additional purpose. The pandemic is far from the only threat to schools. The last thing staff need to worry about is the threat of school-based violence. A temporary no visitors policy limits the number of people staff need to track and manage while they attend and adjust to new ways of going to school.
The way we go back to school relies on the smart, deliberate use of existing technology. We can’t measure what doesn’t exist, so screening depends on catching symptomatic carriers. By restricting access for students and staff with respiratory symptoms, we also cut out the kneejerk anxiety of sitting six feet from a coughing or sneezing peer during a pandemic.
Temperature, exposure, and symptom surveys help staff and students self-screen for attendance. Think of this data as the ticket into school. SIS vendors can help you report and safeguard this self-screening data, so it’s easy to see the beginning of a problem before it becomes too big to handle.
School staff and students are returning to school buildings during a respiratory pandemic. Public health officials have indicated the more outside air available, the better. Instead of recycling indoor air in HVAC systems, schools have begun to make adjustments to take in more outdoor air.
Though it makes folks above a certain latitude scratch their heads a little, there’s also the idea that schools can form outdoor classrooms when possible. Weather permitting, it’s definitely not the craziest solution to in-person education we’ll see. Some northern schools are setting up for an early start to the 2021-22 school year specifically to allow for open-air classrooms. Set expectations with students about behavior and safety, and, if possible, set up outdoor classrooms within a secure perimeter. Unused sports fields can be temporarily repurposed.
The at-times unpopular truth is that any student capable of following a dress code policy can typically comply with a face covering policy. Ask parents to reach out to leadership with their concerns and be prepared to offer solutions.
That said, face coverings run counter to some security safeguards, like ID badges. There’s no reason not to issue badges with pictures. They help indicate a staff member or student should be present in the building, and it’s nice to be reminded of the smile under the mask.
For a year we have heard the constant refrain that school will look different. To pretend otherwise is to ignore reality. However, the value in-person education has never been clearer. Here’s to a great, safe return to school buildings—whatever it might look like.
Erin Werra is a writer at Skyward’s Advancing K12 blog. Skyward is an administrative software provider committed to a better experience for every user, www.skyward.com.