Last Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidelines to help K-12 schools, as well as restaurants, transit systems, and other businesses, decide whether or not it is safe to reopen. School districts across the United States remain closed through the end of the 2019-2020 academic year, but many administrators are eager to start planning to reopen, especially with spikes of mental health concerns for isolate children and a rise in food insecurity.
CDC Guidelines: Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic
The CDC’s guidelines warn officials to ensure that COVID-19 numbers are low in the community before reopening to prevent resurgence of the virus. Guidelines also reccomend that the school be certain sudden spike in cases within a school can be slowed, that social distancing and sanitation is up to par in school facilities, that administrators have an established process to ensure parents and teachers voices and concerns are heard, and the district can guarantee proper funding can make it all happen, according to WBIW News.
“First and foremost, the school systems will need to work with their local state and public health departments to determine what their risk to coronavirus in their community is,” said Dr. Sally Goza, director of the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP), to WBIW News. “They will also need to determine what their access to testing is, and how the schools will be able to keep the schools clean.”
State and local public health officials should help determine the most appropriate actions while adjusting to meet the unique needs of the local community, as per the CDC. "Back to School" plans should also have a contingency for high-risk students, teachers, or staff who might have additional concerns about returning to campus.
Below find the questions schools must ask in order to reopen, according to the CDC’s Schools Decision Tree:
Should you consider opening?
- Will reopening be consistent with applicable state and local orders?
- Is the school ready to protect children and employees at higher risk for severe illness?
- Are you able to screen students and employees upon arrival for symptoms and history of exposure?
If any of the answers to the above questions are “No”, then the CDC does not recommend opening at all. If the answers are all “Yes”, then schools can move on to the next questions.
Are recommended health and safety actions in place?
- Promote healthy hygiene practices such as hand washing and employees wearing a cloth face covering, as feasible
- Intensify cleaning, disinfection, and ventilation
- Encourage social distancing through increased spacing, small groups and limited mixing between groups, if feasible
- Train all employees on health and safety protocols
If you answer “No” to any of the above, schools must revisit this and meet these safeguards before moving on to the next reopening question. If you answered “Yes”, schools can move to the next and final question.
Is ongoing monitoring in place?
- Will you develop and implement symptom checks for students and employees when appropriate?
- Will you encourage sick students/employees to stay home?
- Will you have a plan for students/employees that do get sick?
- Will you communicate regularly with local authorities, employees and families about the latest cases and updates to policies and procedures?
- Will you monitor student and employee absences and have flexible leave policies and practices?
- Will you be ready to consult with local authorities if there is a case in the school or in the area?
Again, if you answer “No” to any of these questions, schools must revisit and meet the safeguards. When all the questions are answered with a “Yes”, then schools can move forward with reopening and monitoring.
Technology Considerations with Schools Reopening
As K-12 school districts work through the CDC’s School Decision Tree, it’s important to note that there could be some uses of a school safety solution to assist in streamlining operations, from bolstering a communication strategy with community members to conducting employee wellness checks, as schools reopen.
Communicating Internally and Externally
Many of the CDC reccomendations encourage ongoing monitoring, and an ability to implement a plan if a student or employee gets sick. Part of a response strategy must be open and constant communication with local public health or public safety authorities, employees, and families. Providing updates to evolving school policies and procedures surrounding the coronavirus will be necessary to avoid panic or confusion, and keep community members safe.
Leveraging secure document delivery can be a great tool to communicate externally with parents and guardians about your school’s new policies and procedures, and what your school is doing to keep students safe. Administrators can send their plans and policies electronically home to parents in a PDF format through a secure document delivery platform.
Administrators can also communicate comprehensive plans or protocol for if an employee or student gets sick, as well as policies and procedures to parents and guardians by using a school notification platform. Users can reach parents through their preferred communication method such as text message, email, phone call, social media, and more.
If an employee exhibits symptoms while on school grounds, users can quickly notify internal school staff as well as local authorities simultaneously by using a mobile panic button application. Staff can then go through their safety procedures to ensure students and staff remain safe. For example, during an immediate dismissal of classes, adminsitrators can simultaneously communicate with internal personnel and coordinate with student's parents or guardians.
Conducting Wellness Checks
CDC reccomendations also require monitoring school absences and conducting daily health checks. Within a comprehensive mobile panic button solution, administrators can connect with school staff by sending wellness checks to determine if an employee is exhibiting symptoms, or if they’re having difficulties with their mental health. This will also be beneficial for the daily health checks. Administrators can check-in with school staff to make sure they’re feeling healthy and safe to return to school grounds.
Managing School Safety and Student Mental Health
When schools are back in session, there will be noticeable changes to how day-to-day operations are conducted. These changes could impact students who are having a tough time adjusting to the ‘new normal’ of the pandemic which in turn could amplify mental health issues, stress, and trauma and manifest into violence. Schools must be ready to address different scenarios and keep safety and security at the forefront.
The NASP School Safety and Crisis Committee released a Behavior Threat Assessment and Management in the Virtual Environment resource, which included the following points surrounding student mental health:
- During extended school closures, schools may see an increase in student mental health concerns (e.g., anxiety, depression, substance abuse). This may include an increase in existing symptomology or the development of new concerns. Identifying and managing mental health concerns can reduce harm to self and others among individuals of concern.
An anonymous tip text system allows students to anonymously report any concerning behaviors they may witness from fellow students. During an era where students are spending a large portion of their social life online, an ability to report suspicious behavior might be more important than ever. By sending a tip in, school administrators can take next steps with the parents or guardians and the student to address any mental health concerns.
The NASP also noted how additional financial or social stressors caused by the conditions of the pandemic might further exacerbate mental health challenges.
- Student, family, and community stressors are very likely to increase in frequency, duration, and intensity during times of extended school closure. Examples include: increased isolation, increased financial stress, reduced supervision, increased connection to unsafe individuals in the home (e.g., domestic abuse), decreased involvement with prosocial school staff members/peers, increased engagement with unsafe or violence-promoting internet chat rooms/groups, increased perceptions of uncertainty (e.g., unknown time frame for when COVID-19 may end), and increased feelings of resentment due to societal and educational inequities. All of these may increase individual perceptions of aloneness and potentially contribute to mental health challenges.
A student struggling with mental health concerns coupled with the trauma of isolation and the pandemic could lead to a sharp decline in wellness as well as increased engagement with negative online media consumption, potentially leading to unsafe or violent behavior. Having a school safety solution, such as a mobile panic button, to quickly communicate with first responders and internal staff could be another important tool to responding to any school safety threats.
To learn more about our K-12 solutions amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, click below.
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