On May 19, 2020, the CDC released considerations for schools to supplement any state or local regulations with which schools must comply. In general, the more humans interact, and the longer the interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread. While the lowest risk is students and teachers participating in virtual-only classes, activities, and events, there are precautions schools may follow to help minimize risk to the school community. Those precautions include personal prevention practices like handwashing, developing new policies, modifying school layouts, and preparing for when someone becomes ill.
Hand Hygiene and Respiratory Etiquette
Schools should teach and reinforce handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Monitoring should also be increased to ensure compliance among students and staff. Consider posting signs that promote everyday protective measures and how to stop the spread of germs. Schools should have tissues readily available so staff and students can easily cover their coughs and sneezes. For older children and staff, hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol should be provided. Older children and staff should wear cloth face coverings as feasible, especially when physical distancing is difficult. The CDC also encourages schools to provide no-touch/foot-pedal trash cans.
Maintain Healthy Environments
Schools should develop a schedule for increased routine cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, like playground equipment, door handles, sink handles, and drinking fountains. Schools should consider limiting the use of shared objects, like gym equipment, art supplies, and electronic devices. Keep each student’s belongings separated from other students and in individually labeled cubbies or lockers.
Modify School Layouts
In the classroom, teachers should consider spacing desks at least six feet apart when feasible. Also, consider turning desks to face in the same direction (rather than facing each other). On school buses, consider having one child sitting per row and skipping rows when possible. At the reception desk, install physical barriers like sneeze guards and partitions. Limit any nonessential visitors and volunteers in the school buildings.
Encourage Individuals to Stay Home when Appropriate
Consider developing and publicizing flexible sick leave policies to encourage sick employees and students, or those in close contact with a sick person, to stay home without fear of retaliation. Schools could also consider offering virtual learning and telework options. This is especially important for students and staff at higher risk for severe illness.
Monitor COVID-19 concerns
Designate a person to be responsible for responding to COVID-19 concerns and provide his/her contact information to community stakeholders. If feasible, consider creating a policy to conduct daily health checks (like temperature screenings and/or symptom checking) of staff and students.
Schools are also encouraged to consider staggered arrival and drop-off times to minimize interactions between groups of students. Schools should also consider flexible worksites and flexible work hours for employees, when practical.
Preparing for When Someone Becomes Ill
Schools should develop strategies to prepare for when someone becomes ill. Staff and families of students should be advised that they are not allowed to return to the school until they have met the CDC’s criteria to discontinue home isolation.
The CDC also suggests that schools alert staff and families to notify school officials (e.g., the designated staff person) if they (staff) or their child (families) become sick with COVID-19 symptoms, test positive for COVID-19, or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 symptoms or a confirmed or suspected case.
Schools should also develop a plan to separate staff members or students experiencing COVID-19 symptoms at school. After separation, the school should also have a plan in place to clean and disinfect the areas used by the sick person.
All educational institutions are also encouraged to check the Department’s Coronavirus webpage for updates and additional information and resources. Schools should work with state and local health officials for further guidance and implementation techniques.
We will continue to monitor and evaluate developing legal and practical considerations for educational institutions. Husch Blackwell’s own guidance relating to a host of issues, including labor and employment, data security and privacy, and healthcare considerations are available in the firm’s Coronavirus Toolkit, which is updated on an ongoing basis. Questions regarding this guidance or your institution’s response to COVID-19 also can be directed to COVID19response@huschblackwell.com, directly to us, or to your Husch Blackwell education law contact.