Is Your School Ready to Reopen in the Spring?

by | Nov 2, 2020


Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like COVID-19 will disappear anytime soon. However, research suggests that classroom learning has academic and health benefits for students that are hard to ensure through online-only learning. How can your school leaders safely reopen schools, and when?

Here are some tips and resources to safely reopen your school for in-person classes this spring:

  1. Classrooms must have fresh air ventilation.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that while “COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly through close contact from person-to-person … There is growing evidence that this virus can remain airborne for longer times and further distances than originally thought.” Many health and education experts are concerned about the quality of indoor air, especially in underfunded schools.

Even if all students and teachers wear masks at all times indoors, some microscopic aerosols are able to escape masks and enter the air. Researchers are concerned that those carrying the virus, including asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic carriers, leave aerosols lingering in the air. Air conditioning and heating systems, which simply recycle indoor air without circulating fresh air from outdoors, have the potential to help spread the virus with these infected aerosols.

In their reportRisk Reduction Strategies for Reopening Schools,” Harvard University’s Schools for Health initiative recommends the following steps to help provide clean air for people in your school building:

  • Increase outdoor air ventilation — Check on your ventilation systems to find out whether they regularly bring in clean, outside air to your building indoors. When possible, consider keeping classroom windows cracked or open.
  • Filter indoor air — Note that an air filtration system is different from a ventilation system. Your school’s air filters may need to be changed or upgraded to be more effective at capturing dirty air particles, including those carrying the COVID-19 virus.
  • Supplement with portable air cleaners, and consider advanced air quality techniques — Check out this guidance document from the ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force about air filtration and disinfection.
  • Use plexiglass as a physical barrier — Although plexiglass won’t stop aerosols from circulating through the room, setting up barriers between students and teachers can help prevent exhaled particles from spewing toward others when people speak, breathe, and sneeze.
  • Install no-contact infrastructure and keep surfaces clean — Get creative when organizing classrooms to help prevent students from having to touch the same surfaces. Use sanitizing wipes frequently to clean any shared surfaces.
  1. Schools should consider new schedules.

Your school or region may not be able to safely reopen classrooms with a traditional schedule, when all students attend school five days per week for full school days, right away. Your leaders should consider other options, including:

  • Learning pods with groups of students who attend school on a rotating schedule
  • One-on-one support for students with special needs — A recent article in the Longview News-Journal describes how one family is adjusting to learning with COVID-19 restrictions.
  • New school lunch schedules — A recent news story from KATV in Little Rock shows how local schools have taken new precautions during lunchtime.
  1. Schools must build a healthy, and safety-driven culture.

By now, most school leaders recognize that basic safety precautions such as requiring everyone to wear masks, maintaining six feet of distance between people, and frequently cleaning contact surfaces are important for keeping students and teachers safe as we reopen schools.

Unfortunately, though some schools have not been consistent in implementing these policies. For example, some schools require teachers and students to wear masks in the classroom but do not enforce mask-wearing rules in the teachers’ lounge. This lack of consistency can have dangerous consequences, especially for teachers and staff who are at higher risk for contracting the virus due to their age.

School leaders must work to build a culture among administrators, teachers, and staff, which values safety precautions you have set in place:

  • Help teachers, staff, and students build healthy habits by providing frequent reminders of new safety rules, especially in the first few weeks that people are allowed back in your building.
  • Put up signs in classrooms, hallways, and other shared spaces with reminders about safety procedures.
  • Hold teachers, staff, students, and parents accountable for conducting self-checks for COVID-19 symptoms each day.
  • Set a good example by modeling how to follow safety rules in front of your staff and students.

More Resources to Support Your School’s Reopening

Check out these other resources to learn how your school leaders can decide when and how to reopen your school this spring: