Back to School Safety Checklist During COVID-19

Certain safety protocols may be more important for reopening schools during the coronavirus than others. Learn what they are to help decide what’s right for your child. 

As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise and school districts across the nation grapple with reopening, parents are left wondering just how safe it is to send their kids back to school.

Truthfully, there is no zero-risk situation when it comes to reopening schools, no matter how extensive the safety protocols, says David Cennimo, MD, professor of pediatric infectious disease at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

It’s not a matter of if, but when, exposures will happen, he says. So, for many families it comes down to deciding their level of risk. If it’s zero and parents have the option to work from home and/or assist with virtual learning, that takes going back to school out of the equation, he says.

This list, which includes specific guidance from the CDC, can help you assess the quality of the safety protocols in your school district. Using Dr. Cennimo’s input, each risk-reduction measure is divided into a tier based on its quality and strength. Regardless of tier, it’s important to remember that each protocol has value and adds to the overall safety of your child’s environment. Ideally, your child’s school district will include comprehensive plan that includes bullet points of all three tiers.

Tier 1

  • Reduced class sizes or dividing students into “pods” to limit interaction with other students, while maintaining at least 6 feet of distance
  • Staggered/rotating schedule at least 2 weeks apart to accommodate smaller class sizes (I.e. virtual learning for two weeks, in-school lessons for two weeks). Anything less than 2 weeks may not adequately reduce exposure risk.
  • Masks required for both teachers and students (must be fitted to face, bandanas do not count)
  • Closing down shared spaces and activities such as dining halls, playgrounds with shared equipment and PE class
  • Have children bring their own meals as feasible, or serve individually plated meals in classrooms instead of in communal dining hall or cafeteria
  • Daily disinfecting protocols. (Dr. Cennimo notes that these are even more important when classroom schedules are staggered in time frames less than 2 weeks)
  • Protocols for regular handwashing and/or designated sanitizing stations

Tier 2

  • Classroom setups to accommodate at least 6 feet of distance of space between students
  • Provide physical guides for children, such as tape on floors or sidewalks and signs on walls, to ensure that staff and children remain at least 6 feet apart in lines and at other times (e.g. guides for creating “one way routes” in hallways).
  • Masks required for teachers (Dr. Cennimo notes that mask wearing is much more effective if everyone is wearing them but concedes little kids may have trouble. For that reason, having teachers to wear masks should be the minimum requirement).

Tier 3

  • Install physical barriers, such as sneeze guards and partitions, particularly in areas where it is difficult for individuals to remain at least 6 feet apart (e.g., reception desks)
  • Use disposable food service items (e.g., utensils, dishes). If disposable items are not feasible or desirable, ensure that all non-disposable food service items are handled with gloves and washed with dish soap and hot water or in a dishwasher. Note: Using disposable food items and gloves are not a replacement for washing hands before and after handling food and eating.
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