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.
- How should the screening protocol handle individuals who display symptoms like respiratory distress or coughing, flushed cheeks, fatigue or fever?
- How can individuals with symptoms be immediately separated from others? Is there a designated room or area that can be used?
- How will school nurses or other on-site health care providers be engaged in the isolation process?
- Who will be the school’s or district’s COVID-19 point of contact or liaison with local health officials? This individual should be responsible for responding to all COVID-19 concerns and manage the implementation of isolation and contact tracing procedures.
- What is the process for notifying parents, guardians or family members if students or staff show symptoms of COVID-19?
- How will isolated individuals be safely transported home or to a health care facility?
- How will exposed areas be closed off and cleaned? These may include, but are not limited to, intake and screening areas, areas visited by a sick individual prior to showing symptoms, isolation rooms, buses and other school or district vehicles. The CDC recommends that potentially exposed areas be restricted for 24 hours prior to cleaning and disinfecting.
- How will local health officials be notified of potential COVID-19 cases while maintaining confidentiality in accordance with regulations related to protected health information and student data privacy?
- How will the school and larger school community — especially those who have had close contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19 — be informed?
- What are the expectations for self-quarantining or monitoring students and staff who have been exposed to a person infected with COVID-19?
- What documentation is needed for students or staff who have tested positive to return to school or work? For example, the CDC has criteria for discontinuing home isolation.
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:
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