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Education

Here Are The Guidelines St. Louis County Schools Should Follow This Fall

Josiah Gooden, a graduating senior from McCluer North High School, attends a drive-in commencement Sunday, May 31, 2020.
File photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Schools in St. Louis County now have guidelines they can use as they make plans to return to in-person learning this fall.

Health and education leaders in St. Louis County worked together to develop guidance for districts building a framework for how classrooms and schools will look while the COVID-19 pandemic remains a concern.

“Although planning for this ‘new normal’ may create some inconveniences, if we work together as a community, we will help ensure that our students, staff and faculty will stay healthy and will reduce the chance of significant educational disruptions,” the guidelines state.

Individual school districts plan to release their specific reopening plans over the next several weeks. Several districts told 5 On Your Side they will release information on July 20.

The guidance released Tuesday addresses social distancing, health screenings, face masks, what to do when someone is sick, transportation and several other categories. Each category is broken down into what schools “must” and “may” do to help prevent the coronavirus from spreading.

In general, the guidance suggests schools should do the following:

  • Establish a plan for daily screening for illness or exposure to the novel coronavirus.
  • Minimize interaction — stagger lunch times, alternate common space usage and keep students in cohorts to the extent possible.
  • Keep students physically distanced in a classroom, to the extent possible.
  • Avoid large gatherings that mix multiple groups and do not allow for social distancing. For the short term, avoid assemblies and pep rallies.
  • Develop contingency plans to respond to changes in the level of transmission in the community. Protocols should be developed for hybrid and virtual learning that can be activated if the circumstances dictate.

Below is the full breakdown of guidelines from the health and education leaders who put together the plan.

Social distancing

Social distancing is still strongly encouraged for students. Also, anyone who spent more than 15 minutes within 6 feet of someone who tested positive for COVID-19 will be asked to quarantine.

Schools must: 

  • Establish social distancing protocols for various activities during the school day — classroom, cafeteria, gym, playground, etc.
  • Establish a process for social distancing, not mixing different student groups, and sanitizing between groups when students are eating in a cafeteria.
  • Establish a contained area (such as a vestibule) for parents when checking students in and out during the school day. If others are waiting to check their student in, they should wait outside (in their vehicle if necessary) so there is a limited number of individuals in the contained area. Only one person at a time should be waiting in the contained area.
  • Discontinue allowing nonessential visitors into the school.
  • Administer health screening questions if anyone is allowed into the school building. Face masks should be required for these individuals.
  • Keep accurate records of anyone who has been inside a building in case an outbreak occurs to assist with contact tracing efforts.

Schools may consider: 

  • Addressing class size by splitting classes, requiring attendance on alternating days and reducing the number of students within the classroom.
  • Adjusting elective classes by offering activities within the classroom instead of students moving to a new space.
  • Establishing a schedule for varying arrival and departure times to minimize the number of students entering and exiting the building at the same time.

Screening

Schools must:

  • Implement a health screening for all students before reporting to school.

Schools may consider: 

  • Establishing a protocol for parents to screen their own children before sending them to school. This would include a temperature check and screening questions similar to those for staff.
  • Taking temperatures of students as they enter the building and requiring parents to complete screening questions for their own children before sending them to school. Note that only a minority of children who have COVID-19 will have a fever. Furthermore, temperature checks of students may create a bottleneck and cause the crowding and contact with other students that should be avoided.

When someone is sick

The guidance stressed that the culture of working or going to school when sick needs to change. Anyone who feels sick should be encouraged to stay home.

“Perfect attendance awards for staff and students should be eliminated,” the guidance states. “We must strive to keep sick people at home.”

Schools must (when someone is identified with any symptoms listed in the health screening): 

  • Send a staff member home immediately. If it is a student, isolate the student until arrangements can be made for the child to be picked up by a parent or guardian.
  • Advise the individual to contact a health care provider if they exhibit symptoms or answered “Yes” to any screening question. The health care provider will be able to determine whether the symptoms are a result of COVID-19 infection or if there are other health issues.
  • Follow the guidance of the local health department regarding contact tracing, classroom or school closure, notification of community, sanitizing protocols, etc., if a case of COVID-19 is identified within the school.
Face coverings for staff

Schools must: 

  • Require staff members to wear a face mask or face shield when within 6 feet of another individual.
  • Require adults who are not staff members to wear a face mask when inside a building.
  • Provide medical grade face masks, eye protection and other PPE to nurses and other staff for use when working with students who become ill at school.
  • Instruct staff in the proper manner which a face mask should be worn. 

Schools may consider: 

  • Providing face shields for health care workers as an additional precaution.

Face coverings for students

Schools must: 

  • Encourage students over the age of 9 to wear a face mask if there are circumstances that put them in close areas. If at all possible, wearing masks when in a hallway during passing period is highly recommended. Younger students who are less able to comply with a requirement to wear a face mask should not be asked to do so.
  • Isolate any student who becomes ill and provide a face mask.
  • Instruct students who are being required to wear a face mask in the proper manner in which a mask should be worn. Efforts should be made to destigmatize the wearing of face masks to protect those students who need to wear one.

Schools may consider: 

  • Requiring students over the age of 9 to wear face masks at all times. It should be noted that improper use of a cloth face mask or frequent hand-to-face activity that might be stimulated by continuous face mask usage could result in increased risk of infection.
  • Requiring all students to wear face masks at all times.

Gloves

Schools must:

  • Provide gloves for any staff member working with sick or suspected sick individuals. A fresh pair of gloves should be worn when working with each new individual. An individual should use hand sanitizer before putting on gloves and then once again after removing gloves.
  • Require custodians to use gloves whenever cleaning.

Hand-washing

Schools must:

  • Encourage hand-washing or the use of hand sanitizer upon entering a building, before eating, after eating, after restroom usage, before any group activities and before boarding school buses.
  • Recommend hand-washing any time the face or mouth are touched (which may prove difficult with younger students).

Water fountains

*Note: the CDC has not issued specific guidance regarding water fountains.

Schools must: 

  • Avoid groups congregating around water fountains waiting for access.

Schools may consider: 

  • Closing down access to water fountains.
  • Allowing the use of water fountains for filling water bottles.

Restrooms

Schools must: 

  • Limit the number of individuals in the restroom.
  • Administer at least one deep cleaning a day and clean/wipe down high-touch surfaces throughout the day. High-touch surfaces can transmit the disease, but it’s not a high instance.
  • Maintain a cleaning log to assist with contact tracing if necessary.

Schools may consider:

  • Implementing scheduled restroom breaks so each grade/class can use at a specific time and avoid mixing students from different classes.
  • Marking spaces outside restrooms to provide visual cues to ensure social distancing while waiting.

Transportation

Schools must: 

  • Assign seats to reduce transmission and assist with contact tracing if necessary.
  • Establish a protocol for loading and unloading of buses to minimize student contact such as loading the rear of the bus first.
  • Establish daily cleaning protocols for sanitizing each bus.
  • Require bus drivers to wear face masks.

Schools may consider: 

  • Encouraging students over the age of 9 to wear face masks while being transported on the bus if they are sitting in the same seat as a non-family member.
  • Reducing the number of students on a bus by allowing only one student per seat and/or alternating rows of students.
  • Encouraging parents to transport students to and from school.
  • Sanitizing each bus between routes.

Cleaning and disinfecting

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has provided guidelines regarding cleaning and disinfecting school buildings and other areas.

Schools must: 

  • Require the use of disposable gloves when cleaning and disinfecting.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces per CDC guidance.
  • Practice routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces. More frequent cleaning and disinfection may be required based on level of use. High-touch surfaces and objects (such as tables, doorknobs, light switches, desks, phones, keyboards and faucets) should be cleaned and disinfected regularly.
  • Disinfect using EPA-registered household disinfectant, properly diluted bleach solutions or alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol.

Schools may consider: 

  • Implementing sanitizing procedures using alternative means. Please check the effectiveness with local health department.

Social and emotional well-being

This pandemic has caused stress on staff and students. From prolonged absences to fear of the unknown to deaths related to COVID-19, there have been a variety of stressors on our school community. Schools should consider these objectives when creating their re-entry plans:

  • Adopt an approach of universal services for mental health support for all students and staff.
  • Provide training to teachers and other staff on how to talk to and support students during a pandemic and psychological first aid.
  • Contact students who do not return to school with a wellness check-in as they may be experiencing school avoidance due to anxiety related to the pandemic.
  • Provide additional support to students who may be exhibiting suicidal ideation or grieving due to loss of a family or friend, or missed experiences.
  • Implement academic accommodations for students having difficulty concentrating or learning new information due to stress associated with the pandemic.

When a case is identified

If an individual within a school building tested positive for COVID-19, schools must work with their local health department but could expect some of these parameters to be put in place:

  • Identify whom the individual was in contact with, within a 6-foot space, for at least 15 minutes. If specific contacts cannot be identified, quarantine everyone who was in the same room, bus or other areas. Schools will need to keep room/bus logs or photos in order to assist with contact tracing. By having a seating chart, bus seating charts or photos, the number of students required to be quarantined can be minimized.
  • The St. Louis County Health Department suggests that if over 5% of the student body in a building or district test positive any day, 4% test positive over two days in a row or 3% test positive for three days in a row, then that building or district closes for 10 days (percentages may change when better scientific data becomes available).
  • Schools need to ensure there is a space to isolate a sick student or staff member until the individual can leave the building.
  • In the event a person diagnosed with COVID-19 is determined to have been in the building and poses a risk to the staff or students, a school may close for 1-2 days for cleaning and disinfection of that building or exposed area if unable to clean during the nighttime closing.

The St. Louis County Department of Public Health, EducationPlus and Independent Schools of St. Louis endorsed the recommendations in the guidance.
Dori Olmos is a digital producer with the 5 On Your Side, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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