Time to resume the schools! Starting the school year can be stressful at the best of times, let alone after a pandemic. Both children and adults are feeling excited, nervous, anxious and may be reluctant to return to school.
In order to reach the goal of reopening schools as safely and quickly as possible for in-person learning and help schools remain open, it is important to adopt and diligently implement actions to slow the spread of COVID-19 inside the school. This means that students, families, teachers, school staff take actions to protect themselves and others where they live, work, learn, and play.
We will be adapting to a new normal once school reopen i.e., everybody needs to wear masks while maintaining social distancing.
Few strategies to consider while developing any EOP:
- Develop a protocol for monitoring local COVID-19 data in your community to keep track of the level of transmission, to make decisions about changes to mitigation strategies, and to help determine whether school closures may be necessary. This should include daily review of official public health data surrounding the school. Contact the state, local, tribal, or territorial Public Health Department for references to local COVID-19 data.
- Develop and test information-sharing systems (e.g., school-to-parent email or texting protocols, periodic virtual meetings with parent/teachers, etc.) with school and community partners and key stakeholders. Use institutional information systems for day-to-day reporting on information that can help to detect and respond to an outbreak, such as number of cases and absenteeism or changes in the number of visits to the health centre by students, teachers, and other staff.
- Adopt mitigation strategies to promote healthy behaviors that reduce the spread of COVID-19, maintain healthy school environments and operations, and plan what to do if a student, teacher, or staff member gets sick.
- Examine the accessibility of information and resources to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and maintain healthy environments and determine whether they are in plain language, and available in appropriate languages and accessible formats.
- In consultation with local officials, establish transparent criteria for when the school will suspend in-person learning to stop or slow the spread of COVID-19, as well as transparent criteria for when to resume in-person learning.
- Assess students’ special needs (such as continuing education, meal programs, and other services) and develop strategies to address these needs if in-person learning is suspended or if a student needs to self-isolate as a result of a diagnosis of or exposure to COVID-19.
Students with disabilities or special healthcare needs
Plan for accommodations, modifications, and assistance for children and youth with disabilities and special healthcare needs.
A customized and individualized approach for COVID-19 is needed for special needs children, who have limited mobility; have difficulty accessing information due to visual, hearing, or other limiting factors; require close contact with direct service providers; have trouble understanding information; have difficulties with changes in routines; or have other concerns related to their disability. This would call for the following:
- Education to remain accessible for children in special education who have an Individualized Education Program.
- Social distancing and isolating at school may be difficult for many people with disabilities.
- Wearing masks may be difficult for people with certain disabilities (e.g., visual or hearing impairments) or for those with sensory, cognitive, or behavioral issues.
- Students may require assistance or visual and verbal reminders to cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when they cough or sneeze, throw the tissue in the trash, and wash their hands afterwards.
- CLEANING AND DISINFECTING procedures may negatively affect students with sensory or respiratory issues.
- Students may require assistance or supervision washing their hands or using a hand sanitizer.
- Cleaning and disinfecting personal belongings, school objects, or surfaces may require assistance or supervision.
- Behavioural techniques can help all students, adjust to changes in routines and take preventive actions. These techniques may be especially beneficial for some children with disabilities and may include modelling and reinforcing desired behaviours and using picture schedules, timers, and visual cues.
DR GEETANJALI KUMAR