Considerations for re-opening Fayette schools: Masks, 1-way halls, box lunches in distanced classrooms

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The Fayette County Board of Education meets via remote video for the June 7 called meeting.
The Fayette County Board of Education meets via remote video for the June 7 called meeting.

Parents, students: See what the new school life may look like — 

Reopening a business in the days of Covid-19 is tough enough. Reopening a large school system is vastly more complicated. The Fayette County Board of Education on June 1 received an update on the ongoing discussions dealing with reopening schools for the 2020-2021 school year. At this point, the reopening date for Fayette schools is undetermined.

The school system’s Covid-19 Task Force is looking at a laundry list of issues relating to reopening schools for the coming school year.

Though the school year routinely begins each August, there is nothing routine about the pandemic that has altered many aspects of life in America. That is why the reopening schedule, including opening day, for the 2020-2021 school year is currently undetermined.

It is important to note that the numerous items below are draft only, and not finalized.

The report heard by board members contained a number of assumptions the must be considered. Those include:

• The goal of social distancing measures in schools to mitigate the spread of the virus (we will not have zero new cases until a vaccine is available and widely administered).

• The goal is to keep the contagion to a minimum with the focus of protecting those most vulnerable. (low risk, medium risk, high risk)

• We cannot ignore the economic imperative of allowing parents to go back to work.

• Our plan must be affordable.

• Teaching and learning and how that impacts student outcomes will continue to be essential.

• We have to give up the luxury of our past routines and embrace that our practice, going forward, will look different.

The update to board members also dealt with a host of issues related to reopening schools. Those included, but are not limited to:

1) We need multiple options (planning for short and longer-term options with 12-24 month plans)

2) Monthly plan (rolling closures)

3) New CDC guidelines for reopening schools

4) Wear masks over the age of 2

5) No sharing of any items or supplies, all belongings in individual cubbies or labeled containers; no sharing electronic devices, toys, games or learning aids

6) Desks six feet apart, all facing the same way

7) The distance on school buses — one child per seat, skip rows

8) Install sneeze guards and partitions wherever you cannot space six feet apart

9) One-way routes in hallways; tape on sidewalks and walls to assure kids stay six feet apart

10) No communal shared spaces — cafeterias, playgrounds

11) Physical barriers or screens between sinks in bathrooms

12) Only pre-packages boxes or bags of food instead of cafeteria food; kids eat in classrooms

13) No field trips, assemblies, or external organizations in the schools. Limit volunteers and visitors

14) The same children stay with the same staff all day, with minimum switching groups or teachers

15) Stagger arrival and departure times for students to limit exposure to crowds of students

16) If possible, daily health and temperature checks

17) And several rules about cleaning and disinfecting throughout the day and hand-washing frequently

If the above-mentioned items were not enough, the Covid-19 Task Force noted a number of steps to consider in the reopening effort. Those items for consideration included:

• Give students, parents and educators the choice of the full-time virtual/remote learning for the 2020-2021 school year

• K-5 students should be allowed to be in school every day, but adhere to the required social distancing requirements

• Keep all classrooms to approximately 50 percent capacity and do not allow student groups to mix

• Run buses at (approximately) 50 percent capacity

• Masks are worn by everyone in groups, health screen everyone, hand-washing protocols and temperature monitoring protocols. No one comes to school if they are sick

• Staff can circulate if necessary, but students remain contained in their group in order to do contact tracking if necessary

• Have a clear plan ready to go if an outbreak occurs, revert to virtual learning for all, based on defined “trigger points”

12 COMMENTS

  1. One small step to keep kids healthy this year, one giant step towards home schooling.

    Did you see this one at the end after the numbered items?
    ” Give students, parents and educators the choice of the full-time virtual/remote learning for the 2020-2021 school year”.

    I’ve already heard from several younger students including my own grandkids how they eventually started to like the school via. Zoom the last couple of months. It only took a couple of hours and even though they missed socializing with friends, they had much free time. Of course most parents who have 2 working spouses don’t have that option, but I’m sure those that do will jump right in on the virtual/remote learning option this next year.

    Then the following year there will be a huge jump in home schooling when kids and parents compare the freedom of learning from home vs. the semi prison-like atmosphere described in the article above. At least we won’t need to build any new schools.

  2. Please read this full article being quoted and understand the context. Directly under “Funding and Disclosures” it says it was written April 1st, 2020 for their website.

    It was written to help preserve already limited PPE for Healthcare workers.

    Finally, even with that in mind the same article says, “There may be additional benefits to broad masking policies that extend beyond their technical contribution to reducing pathogen transmission. Masks are visible reminders of an otherwise invisible yet widely prevalent pathogen and may remind people of the importance of social distancing and other infection-control measures.”

  3. COVID 19 is an airborne virus. There is enough science that supports the assertion, that indoor facilities – schools, food processing plants, hospitals, nursing homes, restaurants, churches, cruise ships, aircraft carriers, and airplanes; presents difficult challenges in the containment of COVID 19. Although community mitigation measures, like home quarantine, social distancing, masks, temperature checks, hand washing, cleaning of surfaces; may offer some measure of controlling and preventing COVID 19 infections. Community mitigation measures offer no guarantees that COVID 19 infections will not occur, given that indoor facilities, like a schools, all have and use HVAC systems, that unintentionally facilitates the spread of the virus, through every space within the school. COVID 19 presents differently in children than adults; children may remain asymptomatic, during the entire course of infection or have mild cold-like symptoms. Asymptomatic spread remains a real threat, given that Georgia remains short of the goal of having the ability to conduct a minimum of 20,000 diagnostic tests per day. Also, Georgia does not have the ability to conduct contact tracing, that will be necessary, when a COVID 19 infection is identified as occurring in a high school or middle school.

  4. From the New England Journal of Medicine on May 21, 2020:

    We know that wearing a mask outside health care facilities offers little, if any, protection from infection. Public health authorities define a significant exposure to Covid-19 as face-to-face contact within 6 feet with a patient with symptomatic Covid-19 that is sustained for at least a few minutes (and some say more than 10 minutes or even 30 minutes). The chance of catching Covid-19 from a passing interaction in a public space is therefore minimal. In many cases, the desire for widespread masking is a reflexive reaction to anxiety over the pandemic.

    • To put things into perspective for you … the article (not a case study) that you cite was written back in March and published by NEJM on April 1. Two weeks later a correspondence piece to the Editor titled, “Droplets and Aerosols in the Transmission of SARS-CoV-2” by one of their Harvard PhD colleagues was also published. Since it’s in the same Vol. 382 No. 21 – May 21, 2020, I thought you would have read that one too. But better yet, might I suggest you be guided in your thoughts on something more current?