Promote Social Distancing and the Use of Personal Protective Equipment


Social distancing strategies and personal protective equipment are important tools districts and schools can use to safeguard learning environments for students and staff.

SREB offers the following five actions states, districts and schools can consider to enhance their health and safety practices. These actions offer a starting point for states, districts and schools to create their own, more detailed plans.

See other sections of the playbook for considerations on cleaning, sanitization and disinfection of schools and protecting the physical and mental health and well-being of students, staff and visitors.

1. Establish a comprehensive social distancing plan.

  • Begin by reviewing federal, state and local guidelines for reopening schools and businesses and considering how they can be adapted to suit the unique needs of districts and schools in diverse communities. These guidelines may include those published by the White House in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics or by state or local health departments or nursing associations. Use these guidelines to identify possible scenarios based on group-size limits, if feasible, in each phase of school reopening and recovery. For example, Phase 1 may allow gatherings of up to 10 individuals, Phase 2 up to 25 individuals, and so on. Consider federal, state or local guidelines to establish and maintain static groups in which students stay with the same staff — all day for young children, and as much as possible for older students — during the school day and while participating in extracurricular activities for as much of the school year as is feasible. Review the social distancing policies and procedures being implemented by local health care providers and businesses and determine how they may be used in educational settings.

  • Determine any needed changes to the layouts of classrooms and other spaces to support social distancing. Use physical markers or barriers to communicate social distancing expectations. For example, tape, cones, dividers or signs can mark line positions as students wait for food or the bus. Layouts that maximize social distancing should be considered for these areas, among others:

  • Consider who will monitor and uphold social distancing expectations, by area, and what additional resources will be needed to support the implementation of the plan, such as traffic cones, tape, signs and plexiglass dividers.

  • Determine how indoor and outdoor spaces should best be used. If possible, limit the need for static groups of students to share spaces with other groups.

  • Create and communicate clear guidelines for the reopening of extracurricular activities, such as student athletics and clubs.

  • Consider parent or guardian drop-off and pickup procedures to promote social distancing and limit contact between arriving and departing students and families. If students must be met outside by school personnel, consider assigning an adult associated with the student’s static group to escort the student into the building when they arrive. Consider staggering arrival and drop-off times to manage the flow of students into and out of the school building.

  • Review unloading and loading procedures and pickup and drop-off areas for buses. Consider assigning seats on each bus route, ensuring that students who are dropped off first are positioned toward the front of the bus. This may limit students’ exposure as they enter or exit.

South Carolina’s AccelerateED Task Force created a set of Summer Learning & Operations Recommendations that include guidance and protocols on social distancing for many different contexts, including food service, transportation, various school settings, field trips or summer camps, and athletic workouts and practice sessions.

Indiana’s Considerations for Learning and Safe Schools (In-Class) COVID-19 Health and Safety Re-entry Guidance includes detailed considerations for extracurricular and co-curricular activities, including summer activities and student athletics.

2. Establish expectations for students, staff and campus visitors to use personal protective equipment.

  • Identify the types of personal protective equipment that are appropriate for students, staff and campus visitors. According to the CDC, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and other federal agencies, PPE include, but are not limited to, eye protection, medical gowns, gloves, respirators, surgical masks and ventilators. “Cloth face coverings are not surgical masks, respirators or other medical PPE.” Consider using CDC and local health department guidelines to create and disseminate a list of the types of PPE that should be worn by different school personnel. For example, school nurses may need medical gowns, gloves, face shields and surgical masks, but teachers may be able to wear gloves and approved masks or cloth face coverings only. Determine quantities of needed PPE and work with the district or state to identify vendors and procure three to six months’ worth of supplies, as described below.

  • Determine a product management and distribution plan that addresses how PPE products will be distributed and securely stored. Determine who will be responsible for managing the PPE inventory.

  • Contact state or regional purchasing officers to determine if PPE products can be purchased using a state-negotiated price agreement or bulk discount. Work within regional networks to determine shared needs and take steps to establish new statewide pricing agreements for high-need items.

  • Designate when and where staff are expected to use PPE, ensuring that PPE is used when social distancing expectations cannot easily be met. Consider communicating that PPE, especially face coverings, must be worn in designated shared areas to limit the spread of COVID-19.

  • Determine appropriate forms and expectations for students’ use of PPE and cloth face coverings. Review federal, state and local health guidelines frequently to stay up-to-date on expectations and best practices for the use of PPE and cloth face coverings. These guidelines may be updated daily to reflect local reopening phases and expectations. For example, if local health officials recommend that cloth face coverings be used, districts and schools will need to communicate and reinforce their use. Be clear when PPE or cloth face coverings are expected. Start with the following list:

    • Determine the age groups or developmental or behavioral conditions that may make face coverings infeasible, following local, state or CDC guidelines. For example, surgical masks or cloth face coverings may conceal teachers’ smiles and other facial expressions, which may upset or confuse younger children. Younger children or children with disabilities may struggle to not touch or remove their masks or face coverings.
    • Communicate the appropriate use of face coverings. Consider creating an illustrated list of “dos and don’ts” that are shared widely and in multiple languages with students, parents, staff and members of the community.
    • Determine specific times and activities when face coverings will not be used, such as during snack time or at lunch.
    • Reassure parents and guardians that students will have structured times when face coverings are not needed and students can breathe freely. Communicate how these breaks will be implemented, especially for younger students.
    • Determine how face coverings will be stored when not in use.
    • Communicate expectations for providing and using face coverings with students, parents and the community. Ensure that parents and guardians are aware of agreed-upon guidelines for the provision and use of approved PPE to students and staff.
  • Communicate how social distancing and the use of PPE and cloth face coverings will promote health and safety in the school and larger community.

  • Promote the use of PPE and cloth face coverings with school visitors. Clearly communicate that the use of PPE and/or cloth face coverings are expected throughout the school by posting signs at all entry points and in the school’s designated check-in areas — most often the front office. Establish a procedure for screening visitors and providing them with disposable PPE, if needed.

Arkansas is working with its state procurement system, regional Education Service Cooperatives and TIPS/TAPS — The Interlocal Purchasing System (TIPS) and the Texas Arkansas Purchasing System (TAPS) — to buy PPE.

The Maryland Department of Health issued interim guidance for the use of cloth face coverings in child care programs that includes developmental or behavioral conditions that may influence young children’s ability to tolerate wearing a cloth face covering without frequently touching the mask, attempting to take it off, or being unable to remove it safely without assistance.

3. Review and revise procedures and policies for offices and non-instructional spaces to ensure the safety of students, staff and visitors.

School and district leaders should brainstorm site-based activities that engage parents, community members and campus visitors. Policies and procedures for each group should be revised to reflect the expectations set by local health agencies. Many schools and central offices maintain an open-door policy as a way to build and maintain relationships across the community. However, these policies may unintentionally place students, staff and visitors at risk. As policy revisions are made, leaders should safeguard opportunities for all shareholders to feel welcomed, valued and protected. Consider revising the following policies and procedures:

  • Checking students in and out of school
  • Conducting health screenings of students, staff and visitors
  • Student, staff and visitor use of restrooms and water fountains
  • Dropping off materials or resources to students or staff
  • Handling appointments for administrators, counselors and on-site service providers
  • Accessing school-based parent and family resources, such as college and career advising centers, libraries and media centers, and other resources
  • Processes or protocols for parent and community volunteers

4. Conduct periodic checks to maintain healthy learning environments.

For many schools and districts, buildings that were in near-constant use have now been closed for weeks or months. As leaders work to reopen schools, many buildings, HVAC systems and plumbing systems will need to be checked and serviced to prevent exposure to microbial hazards like mold or Legionella, the cause of Legionnaires’ disease. Consider the following:

  • Ventilation. Ensure ventilation systems operate properly and increase the circulation of outdoor air as much as possible. Consider opening windows and doors when possible, so long as student and staff safety can be assured.

  • Water and Plumbing Systems. Take steps to ensure that all water and plumbing systems and features — including, but not limited to, faucets, drains, toilets, drinking fountains, water heaters, showers, ice machines, fire sprinklers, eye wash stations and other features — have been cleaned, flushed and maintained and are safe to use. In particular, schools should determine how drinking fountains will be used and on what schedule they will be cleaned. Encourage staff and students to bring their own water to minimize the use and touching of drinking fountains.

5. Promote social distancing and the use of PPE to the whole school community.

Members of SREB’s K-12 Education Recovery Task Force urge states, districts and schools to involve parents, students and the wider community in planning and decision-making related to social distancing and PPE policies whenever possible.

They also recommend “over-communicating” social distancing and PPE policies through as many platforms and channels as possible. Posters, flyers, emails, social media posts, websites, webinars, live town hall meetings, conferences, press releases, news announcements and other communications — prepared in as many languages used in the local community as is practicable — can all stress the importance of social distancing and PPE as powerful tools in the fight against COVID-19.

Engage school shareholders in helping develop these communications. Be careful and intentional with the terms and tools used to educate, model and promote procedures and policies related to social distancing and PPE. Be especially mindful of any language that might make parents, guardians and community members feel alienated or unwelcome.

Share messages with a broad range of community leaders who have a stake in understanding and promoting these policies. Reach out to school boards, civic organizations, faith leaders, health care providers, social and child protective services, law enforcement agencies, school safety officers, legislators, city council members and others who can serve as ambassadors for health and safety practices.

Consistently positive, inclusive messages can help position social distancing, PPE policies and revised procedures for students, parents and campus visitors as ways to ensure the safety and wellness of the whole school community. As policies and procedures change as the course of the pandemic evolves, reinforce the message — “We want you here!” — with examples of how the school’s efforts to promote health and safety have expanded to include the larger community.

Proactively provide safer alternatives for parents, guardians and community members to engage with the school. For example, instead of barring campus visitors, ask parents or guardians to take advantage of video conferencing or pre-set visitor appointments that protect their health, safety and time. Take note of the strategies, language and systems used by health care providers and local businesses to communicate new expectations. Practices that are already familiar to members of the community can help establish a “new normal” at school and show the whole school community that their health and well-being are valued.

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