There is a lot of fear among students, parents and school staff regarding the start of the 2020-2021 school year. The concerns are the same regardless of our location or demographics. We are all dealing with the same set of unknowns.
Parents want to know what to do, and they want to know now. How will they return to work? Do they have to be home to help with remote learning? What will the schedule look like when the students start to return to school? Will they be safe? Will they wear masks? Will they social distance? Will the school staff be consistent in enforcing guidelines? What will the bus ride be like? What if a student gets COVID-19? What if a teacher gets sick? Will I have to quit my job to be home if school closes? Can I afford to take time off work or quit my job? How will I answer my child’s questions and allay his/her fears? Will my child be psychologically scarred by all of this?
While we don’t have all the answers to these questions, there are some things we can do to address some of the fears and safety concerns.
In addition to the CDC’s very specific guidelines for schools that outline strategies for situations you may not even have considered, NEA has published an extremely helpful guide for reopening schools.
I also recommend meeting with your team now to implement some of the following:
- Communicate often and in a timely manner with parents. This will go a long way toward alleviating some of their stress.
- Make a video to send out to all students before school starts, letting them know you are there for them and can’t wait to be together again.
- Spend time during the first weeks of school, whether remote or in-person, allowing students to ask questions and process everything that is going on.
- Make parents/students aware of resources available to help them with fears, anxiety, depression, withdrawal and other reactions to this difficult time.
- Have a counselor and an administrator talk with students about expectations before you open your doors to in-person learning – mask wearing, sanitizing, social distancing, appropriate and unacceptable behaviors and consequences – and let students know what to expect during lunch, passing periods, gym class and other activities.
- Consider how you will keep students safe if you have teachers doing instruction outdoors. Will students be located a sufficient distance from roads or passerby? How will they get back in the building quickly in an emergency? How will the teacher contact another staff member if he/she needs help? Will administration know who is outside and who is inside the building at any given time?
- Consider organizing all classrooms in a similar manner so students who have to visit multiple classrooms throughout the day have a sense of consistency.
- Have extra masks and other required items on hand for families who forget them.
- If you are still in need of safety supplies, consider some of these carefully curated companies that are working hard to meet the demand of schools and medical facilities and will ship quickly. You can even order your mascot on masks to boost school spirit!
- Refine your sign-in and visitor procedures, as you will not be able to see entire faces when people are wearing masks.
- Be consistent. Always be consistent in your enforcement of rules. If you slip up, acknowledge it to your audience before you lose credibility.
- Consider who is going to staff and monitor bus lines, lines of students waiting for temperature checks, etc. Do you need to hire additional staff. Do this now, before you open your doors.
- Where will you put a student who comes to school with symptoms while waiting for a parent to pick him/her up?
- Ramp up your drill schedule and make sure you include all types of drills. If you have more students and staff outside the building than is typical, add reverse evacuation drills and discuss them with your staff. Continue with lockdown drills because the threat of someone whose actions are the result of an emotional or mental struggle has not gone away, and may even be increased. How will you lock down while keeping everyone safe from COVID-19 transmission? It’s important to discuss this with staff and rehearse the actual protocol before it’s needed.
I know there are many things to attend to right now. It’s not easy for anyone, especially school staff members. Thinking about all of these additional safety aspects may be cumbersome, but it can only keep you safer in the event you need to act quickly. If you have any strategies you’d like to share, please email me and I’ll send them out to all readers in my next post.