Reopening Schools: What Parents and Personnel Need to Know
Are schools reopening for the photo op or for the children: eight questions parents should ask
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Aug. 12, 2020 - PRLog -- As the nation passed the five million mark of cases of COVID-19 and recorded over 164,000 deaths in the US this week, concerns rose sharply on the kinds plans are in place to prevent and control viral infections in schools and childcare facilities. At the same time, new studies show that the live virus floats indoors in tiny airborne particles, that children may carry as much virus as adults, and the children of color contract COVID-19 at higher rates than white children and are more likely to require hospitalization.
Clearly, parents and teachers, nurses and custodians have good reason to worry. Said Claire Barnett, executive director, Healthy Schools Network, "The scope of problem and the justice and equity issues cannot be understated. On any one school day, about 20% of the US population is in a school, and about 25% of children enrolled in public schools have chronic health conditions. The pandemic is spreading, and schools are not required to have infection control plans or to update ventilation."
To help address well-founded worries, Healthy Schools Network is releasing a set of eight key questions parents and school personnel should ask about school or childcare plans to prevent and control infections. Also urged: congress should add $50 million now to US EPA's education and training grants programs for healthy school environments, and support federal funds for FY20 to Reopen and Rebuild schools.
The school health and safety questions ask what schools' written plans are to address: Indoor air quality/ventilation;
The questions are rooted in new, important resources. In July, HS Network and the New Jersey Work Environment Council released a national playbook with eighteen other public health, occupational health, education, and children's health advocates, The Pandemic v. Schools. It calls for a critical leadership role for state and tribal public health agencies to guide schools. The same month, New York Governor Cuomo issued the Department of Health's requirement for all public and private schools to submit detailed re-opening plans to the state for approval.
The key questions address critical but often ignored issues. For example, even if there are low community transmission rates, by their nature, schools are environments that will help spread illnesses. They are densely occupied; they have a well-documented history of poor indoor air and sanitation, lack of ventilation, and inadequate plumbing; and they have challenges in cleaning and sanitation. Worst of all, the poorest communities that were hit the hardest by COVID-19 will send their children to the poorest schools in the worst condition.
The eight questions to ask schools are:
1. Indoor air quality (IAQ). Do you have a written plan for improving ventilation/
2. Drinking water. Did you consult with public health experts on reopening the drinking water system? Was it flushed out and tested for contaminants?
3. Cleaning and disinfecting. Do you have a written plan for cleaning surfaces and for disinfecting high-touch surfaces on a daily or other regular basis?
4. Social distancing/distance learning. Do you have a written plan for returning the youngest and highest-risk learners to school, and an extended plan to include all students in educational programs?
5. Illnesses. Do you have a school nurse on-site? Is the nurse's office ventilated to the outside? Do you have a written plan for managing new illnesses at school and reporting illnesses to public health officials?
6. Masks and face coverings. Do you have a written plan for masks and face coverings that addresses how sensitive and or special needs occupants can be accommodated or exempted?
7. High-risk children and staff. Do you have a written plan on how to accommodate children and staff with special needs or a plan for children whose families/guardians/
8. Supplies and staffing. Do you have sufficient stockpiles of masks and PPE, filters, and cleaning and disinfecting products for one semester, and sufficient staff to clean and maintain the building?
Added Barnett, "The pandemic is the worst possible time to find out that schools aren't well ventilated or clean. Our schools, communities, and states need help. We urge congress to add $50 million now to the US EPA budget so the agency can rapidly deploy education and training grants on indoor air and cleaning and maintence problems, and to support federal "bricks and mortar" funding to reopen and rebuild schools."
There are more than 56 million children in over 125,000 public and private school buildings nationwide. Of the 50 million in public schools, nearly 40% do not have Internet use at home, 29 million receive subsidized school meals, and about a quarter have chronic health conditions. Twenty percent of the teaching staff is age 55 or older, a high-risk category for COVID-19.
As part of Healthy Schools Network's national Back to School communications, it is presenting virtually to groups in New York State and in the District of Columbia this week. Last month, its presentations on The Pandemic v. Schools playbook were hosted by Mchigan education and environmental justice leaders and by the American College of Medical Toxicologists. For more information, see www.HealthySchools.org