Physical Health and Well-Being


Physical Health and Well-Being

The physical health and well-being of students and staff should be the primary focus as education leaders work to reopen and maintain safe schools. District and school leaders will need to communicate and promote healthy practices across the community.

Learn more about the actions districts and schools can take to support the physical health and well-being of the whole school community.


Ensure the Physical Health and Well-Being of Students and Staff

To ensure the physical health and well-being of students and staff, schools and districts will need to establish procedures to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19.   

SREB offers the following four actions for districts and schools in developing procedures for students, staff and visitors to district and school facilities. Actions related to mental health; cleaning, sanitization and disinfection; and social distancing and the use of personal protective equipment can be found here on SREB’s K-12 Education Recovery Task Force website.

1. Establish routine screening and contact tracing procedures.

  • Review CDC considerations for schools and businesses as well as guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics and state and local health organizations. Use them to craft district- and school-level screening protocols for students, staff and visitors, including personnel — such as physical therapists, speech language pathologists, mental health providers or others — who provide services at multiple locations. Use the following questions as a starting point for creating school health screening protocols that can be modified for transportation and extracurricular events:
    • How will students, staff and visitors be screened as they enter school or district facilities? Which areas or entry points can be used for health screenings?
    • What will the health screening process entail?
    • Will students, staff and visitors be asked to answer a series of survey questions about their potential exposure to COVID-19 or symptoms of COVID-19?
    • Will students or staff be required to have their temperature taken onsite? What types of thermometers will be used? How will they be cleaned after each use? 
    • How will health screenings be built into daily routines? 
    • How will health screenings adhere to health information privacy regulations and student data privacy regulations — such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) — and safeguard the privacy and the protected health information of students and staff? The Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has published guidance on HIPAA and COVID-19 for health care providers, community-based testing sites, businesses, first responders, telehealth providers and others.
    • What training will staff receive to conduct health screenings safely and effectively?
    • Who will manage and conduct health screenings for staff? For students?
    • What resources will be needed for screenings? Examples include, but are not limited to, no-contact thermometers, masks, gloves, and dividers, barriers or partitions that separate screeners from the individuals being screened.
    • How will health screening areas be configured to promote social distancing and protect the health of the individuals conducting the screenings?
    • What documentation needs to be provided to students and staff? Examples include, but are not limited to, written explanations of health screening protocols, district policies on privacy and protected health information, and screening results.
  • Review CDC,AAP and state or local health department guidelines for creating a COVID-19 contact tracing plan. Schools that screen students and staff for signs of COVID-19 infection will need guidance from their state or local health departments on how they can assist with tracing and monitoring infected individuals’ contacts with others while protecting those individuals’ personal health information. Schools will also need support and guidance on how to communicate the importance of self-reporting and self-quarantining after potential exposure to COVID-19 with students, parents, staff and the larger school community. States or districts may need to take the lead on gathering and sharing contact tracing guidance and resources with schools.
  • Designate a health and safety planning team to shepherd the development of health and safety plans and serve as “COVID-19 response experts” who can communicate with students, parents, staff and members of the school and district community and address questions or concerns. Community-based liaisons from local health organizations can monitor and help update health and safety guidelines. District and school-site experts should serve on multiple planning teams to ensure consistency in the understanding and application of health and safety guidelines across school and district settings.
  • Consider creating, at the state level, a set of documents, PowerPoint decks, social media posts, web text or other resources containing information and guidance on health screenings and contact tracing that districts can customize to reflect their local needs and share with the community.

Kentucky’s considerations for reopening schools includes a set of guiding questions and potential risk factors to help schools ensure the health and well-being of students, staff and visitors.

Maryland long-term education recovery plan charges school systems to follow guidelines for health and safety issued by their local departments of health.

2. Establish procedures for students and staff who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms.

Since COVID-19 is mostly spread by respiratory droplets released when people talk, cough or sneeze, it is essential to have clear procedures to isolate students, staff or visitors who exhibit symptoms. Districts and schools can use the information provided in Action 1 and the questions below as a starting point for creating screening and contact tracing procedures.

3. Make plans to safeguard students, staff and all other members of the school community who are considered high-risk.

Guidance from the CDC indicates that individuals over 65 and those with serious underlying health conditions — such as high blood pressure, chronic heart or lung diseases, diabetes, obesity, asthma and compromised immune systems — may be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Districts and schools must establish plans to protect the health and well-being of the students, families and staff who may have these conditions. Plans to safeguard high-risk persons must respect laws related to the privacy of protected health information.

  • Establish clear procedures for students and staff to self-report their own or their families’ underlying health conditions that could increase their risk of serious illness. Procedures should uphold privacy laws and specify how to ensure staff or students work and learn in the safest environments possible. Staff and students should be encouraged to self-report illnesses or pre-existing health conditions with full confidence that the district or school will strive to provide support that follows state and federal guidelines for health and safety.
  • Work with district human resources personnel and other local officials to ensure adherence to state and federal regulations. Ensure that work or learning modifications or placement decisions consider access and equity for each student or member of staff. Determine:
    • How will you ensure equal access to quality teaching and learning resources for students and staff?
    • How can you increase opportunities for equitable access to quality teaching and learning for each student? How can quality teaching and learning be offered in the least restrictive environments and meet students’ unique learning needs? For example, some students may learn better in an online or blended environment, whereas others may need more in-person instruction.
    • How will you safeguard against inequities in staffing? For example, are students with the highest needs placed with highly experienced teachers or novice teachers?
    • How will you safeguard against inequities in the services provided to students, such as access to educational technology, counseling or mental health services, special education services, support for English language learners, and other services?
    • What are the impacts of your decisions? Could any actions taken to protect at-risk students or staff unintentionally reinforce biases, barriers or inequities?
    • Are better alternatives available to provide a safe learning or work environment for those considered at risk? Which actions will best advance equity and inclusion? 
    • Which relationships, supports, incentives or accountability measures could assist with the implementation of these modifications or placements? Who will be responsible for monitoring their efficacy? What results will be monitored?
  • For students and staff with known health conditions, solicit documentation from their physicians, noting any restrictions or approval for participation in on-campus activities.
  • Review cases individually with district and school leaders to determine the safest placement options, such as in classrooms with limited numbers of students or online learning. Follow Individuals with Disabilities Education Act guidelines for the least restrictive environment.
  • Create Individual Education Plans for students whose health conditions require alternative placements. Use these plans to communicate with parents or guardians to show how students will engage in high-quality learning while their health challenges are addressed.
  • For teachers, create an individual transition plan that outlines any changes in job duties caused by an alternative placement. This should include expectations to support effective delivery of remote instruction, required professional development and expected collaboration with peers.

Tennessee will emphasize five core principles from the CDC: social distancing, wearing masks at all times, washing hands frequently, cleaning work areas several times per day and staying home if sick.

4. Revisit attendance and absenteeism policies.

A key component of districts’ and schools’ response to COVID-19 is the expectation that sick students and staff will stay home. However, many attendance and absenteeism policies send a different message. For example, some policies state that students who have missed a certain percentage of days are not allowed to earn credit for courses. Some schools set a cap of 10 days for absences. States and districts should revisit policies that incentivize attendance and consider whether they should be amended.

Some parents may not feel comfortable sending their children to school, regardless of whether students or family members have pre-existing health conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19. States and districts should consider creating new attendance policies that allow parents to opt-in to remote learning instead of in-person instruction.

Use the following questions as a starting point for amending attendance and absenteeism policies:

Considerations for Students Considerations for Staff
  • How will parents and students be informed about expectations for staying home when they are sick or have been exposed to COVID-19? What formal communications can be used?
  • How will self-quarantining impact student attendance requirements? Will self-quarantine days be considered “excused absences”? Will students have to make up work when they return or complete assignments remotely while they self-quarantine?
  • What tools or resources can be used to support students who are required to self- quarantine?
  • How will students and families know when they can return to school after self-quarantining? What documentation is needed? What is an appropriate timeline for returning? Do school policies align with CDC criteria for ending self-quarantine?
  • How will attendance requirements apply in virtual or blended learning settings?
  • Will revised attendance policies align with state “seat time” regulations? How can revised attendance policies value evidence of learning and the completion of work instead of physical attendance?
  • How will revised attendance policies safeguard eligibility to participate in student athletics and other extracurricular or cocurricular activities. How will revised attendance policies and procedures support new expectations to stay home when not feeling well and shift the focus away from a traditional preference for “perfect attendance”? 
  • How will changes in attendance policies be communicated to students, parents, staff and the larger school community?
  • How will staff be informed about expectations for  staying home when they are sick or have been exposed to COVID-19? What formal communications can be used?
  • How will self-quarantining impact the use of annual leave? Can staff work from home? Has the district or school identified substitutes if teachers or staff must be isolated for an extended period?
  • What resources can be provided to help staff carry out their job duties while working remotely or during self-quarantine?
  • What expectations will be set for staff who must miss work to care for family members who contract COVID-19? What flexible sick leave policies and practices will enable staff to stay home if they are sick, are caring for someone who is sick, or have been exposed to COVID-19?
  • How will staff know when to return to work after self-quarantining or recovering from COVID-19? What documentation is needed? What is an appropriate timeline for returning? Do workplace policies align with CDC criteria for ending self-quarantine?
  • How will staff attendance policies apply in virtual or blended learning settings? How will staff be expected to structure their work day while working from home? What schedules, policies or procedures can help validate staff use of time while working from home?
  • Do staff attendance and annual leave policies reflect equitable practices, as determined by human resources personnel and/or negotiated agreements?


Read the notice about SREB’s K-12 Education Recovery Playbook.