Edify’s Safe Back-to School Health and Safety Recommendations
The following document provides health and safety recommendations to facilitate safe and organized back-to-school procedures for Edify partner schools. These recommendations were gathered from a diverse set of websites, research reports, guidelines, and best practices. They have been tailored to fit the context and conditions of Edify schools in (Insert Country Name Here). Prior to reviewing these recommendations, please review any guidelines and requirements that are specific to (Insert Country Name Here and Web Link)
Key Considerations Prior to Reopening Schools
Before starting educational service provisions on-site, school leaders should consider carrying out a rapid assessment. This assessment can be developed and executed in collaboration with diverse school staff, teachers, parents, and students from your educational community to collect information that will help you to be better prepared to manage the health and safety recommendations suggested below. The following aspects should be considered during the rapid assessment processes:
- Pre-existing health conditions that might put adults or children at risk Availability of WASH facilities and supplies in the school and in student and staff homes
- Availability of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at school and in student and staff homes
- Access to technology and internet access at school and in student and staff homes
- Availability and access to safe transportation for all students and staff to arrive at school
- Current school infrastructure available to support social distancing guidelines
- Number of entrances/exits to the school to inform entry and exit protocols
- Resources within your community that you could draw upon to improve health and safety
- Other relevant information about families that attend your school that may influence scheduling and communication decisions regarding re-opening including: parent work schedules, languages spoken at home, communication systems already in place at the school, etc.
The assessment findings can facilitate your ability to anticipate, prevent, and reduce health and safety challenges; it can also inform your understanding of your school community’s current capacities and support that might be needed in order to return on-site, allowing you to design data-driven action plans. These action plans may include:
- Action steps to improve the school community’s health and safety considerations on-site and in student and staff’s homes
- An outlined budget of resources or staff needed to accomplish these action steps (See budget resource below)
- Plans to seek out support and resources as needed from Edify and/or local community
- A communication strategy for sharing your plan with adults and children. Awareness campaigns can promote learner’s safe access to schools and mitigate health-related risks.
Health and Safety Recommendations
General school space configuration and social distancing
- In schools, desks should be spaced two meters (6 feet) apart for effective social distancing.
- Make detailed seating arrangements in the classroom, and post signage.
- Encourage/avoid the use of communal spaces such as staff rooms, playgrounds, gymnasiums, cafeterias, and school libraries.
- Discourage overcrowding in communal spaces that cannot be avoided by using markers (ropes, signs, tape on the ground, etc.) or school-staff support to ensure social distancing.
If there is not enough space in classrooms to include all learners and enact appropriate social distancing guidelines, you may want to consider some or all of the following:
- Conduct classes outdoors or in outdoor tents where social distancing measures are easier to accommodate.
- Consider accommodating new spaces using prefabricated components (Ex. Modular classrooms)
- Collaborate with community leaders to identify alternative learning spaces in the community.
- Deliver in person-class in combination with distance learning activities or classes.
- Consider alternate schedules for in-person delivery ensuring ample time to implement effective disinfecting practices:
- Alternate days of the week by groups of students (by grades, by age, or % of each class).
- Alternate morning and afternoon by groups of students.
- Divide classes into shifts (Ex. K-2nd 8am-10am, 3-5th 11am-1pm, etc.)
- Space out start and end times by groups of students (to limit overcrowding at entry/exit)
- Space out return to school by grade level overtime to build capacity (Ex. Kindergarten-2nd grade first, and add other grades weeks later)
Entrance and Exit Protocols
You can reduce potential health and safety concerns by promoting safe school entry and exit protocols such as:
- Increase the number of school entry points to reduce congestion.
- Line up school children upon arrival and departure in line with physical distancing rules. Make sure that schools have an age-friendly illustration to show children and young people how to enter/exit school and move within the school.
- Space out arrival/closure times to reduce overcrowding at entrances/exits.
- Establish temperature checks and hand washing/gel disinfection protocols as children enter and leave schools each day.
- Discourage hand greetings, hugs, play, and group meetings while school children are lining up.
- Do not allow parents to enter buildings and limit visitors at the school site and in classrooms.
Many of the stated alternatives may generate concerns regarding educator workload, therefore employing a combination of several modalities should be promoted in order to alleviate this load and ensure successful implementation of social distancing. In addition, consider drawing upon community support as volunteers to be involved in ensuring social distancing and hygiene practices are followed and to engage in teaching activities as may be required and relevant.
Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Practices for Health
Ensure that cleaning and disinfection measures are effective and regular
- Plan for routine cleaning and disinfection of school facilities and surroundings, especially frequently touched surfaces such as tables, doors/door handle, etc.
- Establish and monitor daily, weekly, and monthly cleaning schedules and outline those responsible. Promote gender equity, distributing cleaning responsibilities equitably between men and women.
- Carry out routine maintenance of WASH facilities. Consider assigning a student in each class each week to assist teachers with hand washing rituals, social distancing practices, etc.
- Procure personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face covering and gloves in sufficient amounts to adhere to national standards and train anyone required to wear it on the correct use and disposal practices.
- If you cannot purchase them due to accessibility or cost, look into community resources and partnerships that could be developed to promote community integration.
- Provide guidelines and ideas to parents for how they can make or get appropriate face coverings for their children.
- Ensure the cleaning and disinfection of features reserved for people with disabilities, including handrails/ramps, accessibility doorknobs, etc.
Ensure availability of appropriate hand washing stations and toilets
- Increase hand washing stations for learners and use age-appropriate, low cost, low maintenance, and eco-friendly designs. (Resources)
- Secure contextually appropriate WASH kits and protocols in line with government standards including menstrual hygiene materials.
- Ensure access to clean (and lockable from the inside) sex-segregated toilets/latrines accessible for girls, boys, and children with disabilities.
- Facilities should include the discrete disposal or laundering of hygiene/ menstrual hygiene products (Sphere, page 113 & 146)
- Train teachers, students, and staff on school hygiene practices and disinfectant practices.
- Share inclusive, accessible, age-appropriate messages on hand washing and safe sneezing/ coughing into your elbow in schools regularly and through various formats (Ex. posters, daily announcements, videos). (Examples)
- Promote and demonstrate regular hand washing and positive hygiene behaviors and monitor their uptake.
Transportation and Commuting Practices
Measures to narrow the risks of contagious include:
- Informing families about available transportation to and from school, using up-to-date information about local transportation and school buses (as relevant), encouraging them to follow local health advice (Insert any relevant local context or links here).
- Minimizing the use of shared rides in vehicles such as taxis and car shares.
- During the trip to and from school, you can foster the students and their family’s:
- Use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer on a regular basis.
- Practice of appropriate coughing and sneezing techniques to reduce germs spreading.
- Awareness of the potential for COVID-19 to spread in large crowds when gathering in crowded areas at the terminal or during peak commute hours.
- Encourage teachers and other education staff to teach school children how to practice disinfection routines upon arriving home (Ex. disinfecting shoes, taking uniforms off, and washing hands)
Food Health and Safety Practices
Prior to opening schools and with the support of local authorities (Health and social protection services) schools might consider conducting tests to gain knowledge of students’ nutritional status. In addition, the following nutrition-related actions might be promoted on-site:
- Children’s inclusion in community social protection systems via referral protocols.
- Connecting with existing governmental or local organizational food programs to further ensure food security and nutrition.
- Offering micronutrient supplements with parents’ permission (Insert any relevant local context or links here)
- Include activities in the action plan which focus on healthy eating behaviors and enhancing nutritional balance for both students and families.
If your school normally provides school meals or snacks, consider implementing the following measures:
- Provide enough safe water supply for drinking and hygiene including hand washing stations with soap, as well as ample waste disposal containers.
- Promote students’ and adults’ regular hand washing habits before and after eating
- Ensure adequate personal protective equipment for food preparation staff, including training and protocols for food handling and preparation, sanitization of dining rooms, and food utensils.
- Space out lunch and snack shifts to reduce overcrowding. You might also consider serving meals in the classroom to reduce student gatherings.
- Make seating arrangements, using physical distance markers, and post visual messages to remind students and adults of hygiene routines while dining rooms are in use.
- Discourage buffet-style services by packaging or serving individual portions to reduce means of transmission.
- Prevent children from sharing utensils or ask them to bring their own from home. Additional meal utensils should be accessible for all students just in case.
- Prevent children from sharing food or drinks.
If school children bring food from home, consider designing parent guidelines for packaging, washing, and preparing food.
Essential school health services and referral protocols
School health practices and referral protocols
- Ensure schools are properly equipped and comply with government health facility standards.
- Stock schools with first aid kits, including personal protective equipment, thermometers, and rubbing alcohol for cleaning thermometers.
- Ensure hygiene practices, including physical distancing and alternatives to sharing materials with others are in place and integrated into classroom activities.
- Consider health screening and body temperature checks for the whole school community upon arrival each day.
- Ensure the whole education community is aware of the health services available and referral protocols.
- Connect schools with local health facilities for quick, accessible referrals.
- Increase airflow and ventilation: Open windows or consider open-air schooling where feasible.
Monitor absences and implement measures to manage or prevent health risks
- Ensure all students, caregivers, and staff understand that they should “stay at home if unwell” and do not require a doctor’s note.
- Use daily school attendance data (students and teachers) to compare attendance rates with those prior to school closures. Identify gaps schoolwide and by particular characteristics including socioeconomic status, gender, students with disabilities, location (ex., rural/peri-urban/urban), or by language group/ethnicity. Use this information to address access issues facing particular groups.
- Use existing referral mechanisms and/or community social protection systems to respond to the needs of students and groups of students with higher risks of chronic absenteeism and dropout.
- Support teachers in high-risk categories to protect their rights and mitigate risks while they perform their duties.
- Use daily absence monitoring (with tools such as Waliku) to identify health risks and implement school-wide prevention or individual response activities.
Family Support: At Home and at School
Families may support safe back-to-school efforts by encouraging children and youth to maintain personal hygiene practices before and after going to school each day. Therefore, the scope of your communication plans and material should include families as end-users to generate sustainable WASH habits.
Families can also support the implementation of cleaning and physical social distance routines in schools by promoting their participation in WASH programmed activities. Be sure to include family support as a part of resource community mobilization while you are designing your back-to-school plans.
Consider creating short 30 seconds to 1-minute videos for parents on the following topics:
- Discourage families from taking children to schools as their children feel unwell and, if applicable, connecting them with local social service using school referral protocols
- Appropriate hand washing techniques
- Appropriate face coverings and how to create them out of household items
- How to reduce risk during the commute to and from school
- Health and safety practices in the home (Ex. Taking off clothes worn outside the home before entering, wiping down shoes, leaving their school backpack outside, etc.)
Families can be your biggest partners in ensuring health and safety recommendations are met in and out of school.
Schools Are Opening Worldwide, Providing a Model for the U.S. (GEORGE EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION)
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Travel restrictions, exemptions, and advice (Government of Canada)
Protocolo Para La Reapertura De Los Centros Educativos Año Escolar 2010-2021, Durante COVID-19 (Ministerio de Educación, República Dominicana)
Las escuelas necesitan triplicar el espacio de la clase (Spain – social distancing in the classroom)
Paula A. Cordeiro