Safety measures needed before reopening schools

New York City, home of the nation’s largest school district, will not reopen schools in September unless a five-point safety plan is adopted (“New York City Teachers Push for Specific Safety Measures Before Schools Reopen,” The Wall Street Journal, May 18).  I hope the plan, which includes widespread testing, temperature-taking, rigorous cleaning and protective equipment, is followed by all other school districts.

But I wonder how it will be carried out in light of the size of the district.  With 1,800 schools, it will be extremely difficult to do so.  The average class has 30 students.  How can social distancing be done?  There are simply not enough classrooms to space students out.

Elementary school will be even more difficult because so many activities involve children working closely together.  Will they be required to wear face masks?  If so, will they keep their hands away from their faces?

When I was teaching high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nearest restroom was too far away to allow me to thoroughly wash my hands and get back to my bungalow.  Moreover, soap dispensers were rarely filled and paper towels were absent.

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2 Replies to “Safety measures needed before reopening schools”

  1. If we’re going to reopen K-12 schools w/o a vaccine, seems like the most realistic approach is widespread testing combined with contact tracing and isolation. Test all the students and staff each week. Send home to quarantine for 14 days anyone who tests positive. Forget the social distancing. The real-world problem is the astronomical cost of doing all those tests.

    Social distancing w/in the classroom seems wildly impractical. As you note, there are not enough classrooms if each class requires two (or more) classrooms and not enough teachers to cover all the classes. Might go to double shifts with each teacher teaching a morning shift and an afternoon shift — that would allow social distancing, but would double the length of the teacher’s workweek. More fundamentally, given the long time period that students would be spending in a classroom and given the dangers of community spread indoors, it seems likely that there would still be a lot of community spread even with the social-distancing w/in a classroom.

    The real problem with reopening K-12 schools is not the students (or the teachers) getting sick but rather virus spread to high-risk family members. From what I’ve seen in the media, the hospitalization and death rates for K-12 students (as well as for healthy adults under 50) are very low. If the hospitalization and death rates for the elderly and the unhealthy were this low, we would have responded to covid-19 the way we respond to the seasonal flu. My guess is that govt officials will eventually move towards reopening everything while emphasizing that elderly and unhealthy individuals remain as isolated as possible. No easy answers for families in which elderly relatives or chemo patients are living with younger/healthy. Perhaps govts will provide free or low-cost living options for these persons — that is, give the elderly and otherwise at-risk persons a place to live separately from younger/healthy people until the vaccine arrives.

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  2. Labor Lawyer: Historians will be writing about this pandemic for many years, trying to identify what we did right and what we did wrong. What works with adults in the business world will not necessarily work as well with young people in schools. The best we can hope for is a vaccine, but that is not likely soon.

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