School districts everywhere will have to adjust in many ways to safely reopen after the COVID-19 shutdown. Health and safety concerns, budgetary restraints and facilities updates are among the considerations schools need to address.
“Schools are dealing with a tsunami of challenges,” says Chuck Luchen, Staples’ senior manager of vertical markets, K-12. “Education is going to look a lot different this fall.”
At the core of the learning experience is the classroom. In our infographic, we identify key modifications to implement in classrooms to help make them safer upon return. Beyond the classroom, schools must evaluate every aspect of operations. Use these tips as you prepare to reopen.
Follow Official CDC Guidelines
Consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s considerations for schools for information that includes:
- What behaviors to promote (such as frequent handwashing and social distancing)
- The levels of risk associated with reopening
- How to maintain a healthy environment for students and staff
Other CDC recommendations include requiring lunches to be eaten in the classroom instead of in a cafeteria, where larger groups of students would be in close contact. Point your school’s nutrition professionals to the CDC guidance on what they should do to protect themselves and help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Additionally, the CDC’s checklist for teachers will help staff understand what to do if a COVID-19 outbreak occurs in the community and how to spot early warning signs at school.
Adopt Rigorous Cleaning Practices
“Previously, cleaning has been primarily focused on cleaning for appearance,” says Rick Clemons, national manager of education and government markets at Staples. “Going forward, cleaning must be focused on cleaning for healthy and safe operation, including removal of unseen germs at the microbial level.”
Schools must focus on deep cleaning and disinfecting. This means disinfecting surfaces and high-touch areas — door handles, railings, desks, chairs, countertops, light switches, computer equipment and other areas — every day using products registered with the Environmental Protection Agency.
Develop a plan to maintain a cleaning and disinfecting strategy to prepare for reopening and to keep people safe throughout the school year.
Invest in New Equipment
Get quality cleaning equipment to accommodate this new emphasis on sanitation. Electrostatic sprayers — such as the Clorox Total 360 or Victory electrostatic sprayers — let you disinfect rooms without having to wipe down every surface by hand. Electrostatically charged disinfecting solutions wrap around surfaces, uniformly covering and disinfecting them.
“After removing visible soils and spraying the appropriate disinfecting solution, just walk away,” Clemons says. “The disinfecting spray kills bacteria and inactivates viruses.”
In addition to regular disinfecting, you can spray antimicrobial coatings to inhibit the growth of germs on surfaces. Spray one of these solutions on surfaces (you can use the same electrostatic sprayers you use for regular disinfecting), and it will kill bacteria and inactivate viruses for extended periods — up to 30 days or longer, depending on the kill claim of the product, Clemons says.
Automated solutions can reduce cross-contamination in some high-touch areas. Towel dispensers and soap and sanitizer dispensers come in touchless versions.
“It’s one way to break the cycle of contamination and interrupting transmission of the coronavirus from one person to another,” Clemons says.
Alter Classroom Arrangements and Schedules
Reducing the number of students in each class can help provide 6 feet of separation between students to accommodate social distancing. As a result, schools may need to offer more classes to reduce classroom density. Having more classes requires more space, so schools are planning creative ways to convert cafeterias, gyms and library spaces into classroom areas.
Another option is a hybrid learning environment where some classes are taught in person and others are taught virtually by a teacher at home. This is especially helpful for high-risk students and staff who are not comfortable returning to school in the fall.
“Schools are going to have to be prepared for that,” Luchen says. “One out of 5 teachers said in a national survey that they’re likely not returning to the classroom due to fear of COVID.”
You can also have students come in for just a couple of days, then have them work from home for the rest of the week.
“Perhaps students go Monday and Tuesday one week, and then next week they go Wednesday, Thursday and Friday,” Clemons suggests.
Educate students and staff about staying healthy with signage in hallways, restrooms and classrooms. Signs should promote social distancing, frequent handwashing and the use of personal protective equipment. To get you started, the CDC has printable posters on hygiene-related topics that promote healthy habits.
Floor markings in high-traffic areas can help indicate how much distance people need to maintain. Using bright colors can help distance indicators feel upbeat, in keeping with the positive environment of your school.
Restructure Your Budget
Budget cuts might be unavoidable. If that is the case, Luchen says it’s an ideal time to take a closer look at where you’re spending money. Are there outdated or inefficient programs still on the budget? Cut them first, in a process of strategic abandonment.
Consider this strategy before letting go of teachers or other staff members.
“They could save enough money to pay for another program, fund other things to keep students and staff safe, save a teaching position and still maintain public purchasing compliance,” Luchen says.