This week the NYS Department of Health issued a set of guidelines for schools that serve children from grades kindergarten through 12. The guidelines are aimed at informing school leaders as to how to conduct in-person instruction, while trying to protect all members of the school community from COVID-19. In order reopen in-person instruction, officials of every school district and private school need to submit documentation indicating that they understand and will comply with the guidelines.
School officials also need to submit a reopening plan with the NYS Department of Health and the NYS Department of Education. Charter schools authorized by SUNY need to submit their reopening plans with the NYS Department of Health and SUNY. These guidelines and information on submitting school reopening plans can be found here. Reopening plans are due by July 31, 2020, although there is an option for schools to apply for an extension if need be. The guidelines are broken down into People, Places, and Processes categories. Below we have highlighted some of the key sections.
- Social distance needs to be maintained whenever is feasible, unless the activity or space does not allow for it. When participating in activities like singing or exercising, additional distance (twelve feet) must be maintained.
- Students and adults need to wear face covering whenever possible, including during instruction. This is particularly important in areas with infection outbreaks. The guidelines state if students cannot endure masks to the point where it impacts their physical or mental health, they will not be required to wear them.
- Ventilation should occur to the greatest extent possible and congregation in any areas needs to be prevented.
- One-way foot traffic ought to be encouraged.
- It is advisable to place students in groups that travel together throughout the day, also known as student cohorts, to diminish the number of people school community members are coming into contact with.
- Remote staff meetings may be best to reduce congregation.
- To maximize in-person instruction while minimizing contact, schools may choose to stagger start and departure times. This may result in longer school operational hours.
- If members of the public are allowed to use school facilities, they must comply with school policies.
- School leaders might consider expanding in-person instruction to other available facilities in the community if it would help facilitate social distancing and cohorts.
- Students can bring their own face covering (homemade, surgical, etc.), but bringing their own cannot be required; if they do not have their own, school administrators must provide it. In addition, there must be enough face masks for faculty and staff.
- Students and staff are to be trained in proper handwashing techniques. Posted signs ought to reinforce proper methods.
- Hand sanitizer needs to be available in common areas, preferably via automatic dispensers.
- Trash bins should be widely available.
- Custodial staff will take charge of facility disinfection practices. All surfaces should be cleaned daily at a minimum; areas that are frequently touched will need to be cleaned more.
- If a school implements student cohort grouping, facilities should be disinfected between each cohort use. When a cohort departs that location, the area and surfaces must be sanitized.
- Schools must have a designated COVID-19 safety coordinator who is responsible for ensuring compliance.
- Communication plans are required to be in place to for students, families and community members. They can utilize social media, text messages, emails, etc.
- Schools with residential facilities must have further procedures for residence halls, isolation, quarantine, and moving-out protocol.
- All members of the school community coming into school facilities need to have their temperatures checked daily, optimally in their homes. If temperature checks occur at school, screeners need to have personal protective equipment.
- Schools cannot record specific temperature data but can keep records of who was screened when and where.
- Students will not be permitted to enter school facilities if they have had a temperature of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 14 days.
- Procedures need to be implemented for how and where sick students will be isolated while awaiting pick-up by a parent or guardian.
- Schools must have protocols to assist with contract tracing in the event of COVID-19 cases.
- Officials are permitted to modify operations to help stop a local COVID-19 outbreak. This action is best done before being mandated by the State. In this instance, school officials need to maintain metrics of those who become ill, to help identify local spread.
- Schools need to notify local and State Departments of Health if school officials learn of any COVID-19 cases within their school community.
It should be noted that schools are required to work with vulnerable populations and those that do not feel safe returning to the physical school community to accommodate their needs. Accommodations may include learning or working from home.