As we begin to open up America, parents are rightfully worried about the safety of their children and the prevention of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus). The World Health Organization (WHO) has guidelines for administrators, teachers, and parents on what to do once school returns but the question we all have is if the suggestions are practical?
Experts know that the coronavirus will be with us well throughout the fall and winter of this year and when school begins and so does the start of flu season. We likely won’t be free from the virus unless we can develop a vaccine or herd immunity, both which will take approximately two-years or more. My concern, as a former high school teacher and former preschool director is how are the administrators going to keep our children safe? Although children are at the lowest risk of dying from COVID-19, Black people are four times as likely to die from the virus than white people meaning students can become the carriers that can infect their household.
The reality is even with the most stringent precautions, it is almost impossible to protect children in early childhood settings. Toddler and preschooler classrooms are virtual Petri dishes. Even though teachers regularly clean with a bleach solution, any parent with a child in daycare will tell you that their household gets infected with repeated illnesses once their child starts daycare. Our toddler keeps a runny nose when enrolled in preschool and it goes away immediately upon separation during vacations or a few weeks off from school. Ask yourself, unless your family has experience COVID-19, has your child been healthier since they’ve been out of school? — No more runny noses! At our toddler’s preschool, they wash their hands upon entering and exiting and after bathroom breaks but that doesn’t keep colds and illnesses away. During their day at school, young children wipe their noses on their arms and hands, touch toys, and each other. Toddlers and preschoolers can’t wear masks or social distance so what can we do for them? Not much. I do suggest that parents immediately wash your child’s hands before taking them home or in your car and as soon as you get home from any place where there are children to change your child’s clothes immediately. Never let them nap in their beds in their street clothes. To prevent illnesses, make sure your child takes a multivitamin daily and builds their immune system.
High school students will not keep masks on and as a former high school teacher, I already can visualize them wearing the masks hanging off of one ear. In addition, high school students aren’t always the cleanest. Just to avoid getting the flu, I had printed on my bathroom passes, “Do not give me this pass back without washing your hands before you leave the bathroom.” And I required them to use the big jug of hand sanitizer that was on my desk once they returned from the restroom. How do we get them to protect themselves and us too?
Schools in China are now requiring children to wear masks through the school day and they have provided plexiglass u-shaped dividers for students’ desks. Remember China has a different set discipline requirements than we do in the United States with strict repercussions.
“Although children are at the lowest risk of dying from COVID-19, Black people are four times as likely to die from the virus than white people meaning students can become the carriers that can infect their household.”
What are schools planning to do? Brandon Foster, parent, teacher, and blogger at MySchoolSupplyLists.com said this, “Our school is going to bring significant changes after the lockdown.” This is what Foster said his school is doing to keep children safe:
- Activities like sports, gathering for competitions, assemblies, games, or any group activities will be restricted.
- Non-essential group activities will not take place as long as there aren’t any vaccines available for the COVID-19 pandemic, or as long as the coronavirus is present in the country.
- There will be a slight change in the school schedule for some time. Entry and exit points will not be overcrowded.
- A distance of one meter will be maintained in the class. That’s why the arrangements will change after the lockdown. No break time in the playgrounds in order to avoid any sort of gathering among students.
- Hygienic facilities will be provided on a larger scale to every student of the school.
- Students have to follow the hand-washing [procedures] and different areas of our school will be disinfected on a regular basis.
Meredith Essalat, a San Francisco principal and author said, “Schools need to get creative in order to keep their students safe and healthy when classes resume in the Fall. Administrators need to take into account how to best establish distance between children, whether that be in the form of reducing class sizes or alternating the days when students attend class on-campus.” Other measures Essalat’s school will take include:
- Taking students’ temperatures before they enter into the building and everyone will be given a mask.
- Frequent handwashing will become routine with a clear protocol of how to rotate children in and out of the restroom in manageably-sized groups.
- Hallways will become one-way thoroughfares to mitigate overcrowding.
- Communal classroom supplies will be taken offline, so children will come to school equipped with everything that they need or teachers will need to parcel out supplies individually so as to keep cross-contamination at a minimum.
- Playgrounds and yard equipment will need to be sanitized with frequency, as well as door knobs, desktops, keyboards, and chairs throughout the day.
- Both snacks and lunchtimes will have to be hosted within classrooms to prevent large gatherings of children in the school’s common area.
- And, students will not be permitted to share food with one another as an additional precautionary layer.
The WHO offers this checklist for parents with children returning to school:
☐ 1. Monitor your child’s health and keep them home from school if they are ill
☐ 2. Teach and model good hygiene practices for your children
Wash your hands with soap and safe water frequently. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol (70% is recommended by the CDC). Always wash hands with soap and water, if hands are visibly dirty
Cough and sneeze into a tissue or your elbow and avoid touching your face, eyes, mouth, nose
☐ 3. Encourage your children to ask questions and express their feelings with you and their teachers. Remember that your child may have different reactions to stress; be patient and understanding.
☐ 4. Prevent stigma by using facts and reminding students to be considerate of one another
☐ 5. Coordinate with the school to receive information and ask how you can support school safety efforts (though parent-teacher committees, etc.)
Are these precautions enough? Are they realistic when it comes to preventing the disease? Probably not. If you can homeschool your child or utilize online classes, that would be ideal at this time but if you can’t you don’t have much of a choice but to send your child to school. Just in case, be prepared at home with acetaminiphen (Tylenol™), freezer packs, thermometers, cough medicine, masks, gloves and protective cover-ups if your child or you become ill.