Elementary, Middle, and High Schoolers Will Be Learning with a Twist This Fall
The biggest change, of course, was technology; some form of online learning will be here to stay for the long term. Yet schools have made many other critical adjustments over the past year, including revising class sizes, enforcing mask mandates, imposing sanitation measures, and implementing COVID testing protocols.
As school administrators prepare for the 2021-2022 school year, they are beginning to grapple with the hard reality that some of these changes may be permanent. Experts forecast that new variants will require vigilance far past this fall. This has caused school districts to rethink everything from physical spaces and sanitation measures to testing protocols.
Here are some of the biggest areas of change that K-12 staff should be considering ahead of the new school year—and beyond.
New layouts for shared spaces
Cafeterias, libraries, and classrooms need to be redesigned to incorporate more distance between tables, desks, and people, while providing room for additional sanitation stations. All of these areas should more widely use plexiglass dividers and other types of partitions to limit spaces to smaller groups of people. Touchless hand sanitizing stations and signs around the school can serve as visual cues to remind students and staff to keep their distance.
Both crowding and loud talking are problems in a COVID-dominated world, making the typical cafeteria a relic of the distant past. Instead, some schools are spreading tables out beyond the cafeteria itself, into courtyards or outdoor tents, or even into individual classrooms.
Libraries pose another challenge. In addition to reducing physical books in favor of e-books, librarians are moving to a cart delivery model where students place orders for books online, and librarians deliver them to classrooms on carts.
As class sizes may be reduced to ensure social distancing at a space of at least three feet, classroom furniture may also need to be reconfigured to accommodate students and staff safely. For example, kids might be allowed to learn from strategically placed couches around the periphery of the room, while others might sit at desks outfitted with plexiglass desk dividers. Classrooms should also have hand sanitizing stations and a selection of disposable masks for students who may have forgotten to bring one.
Alternative learning environments
If interior options are limited, consider developing or expanding outdoor spaces. While covered areas to expand the classroom footprint are an obvious choice, some schools are repurposing parking lots and even roofs as temporary classrooms. Others are adding heaters to extend the life of outdoor learning, providing outdoor-friendly seating, and updating playground equipment so kids can burn off steam. In addition to providing flexibility, using the outdoors as a learning environment helps maintain proper social distance and offers students and staff more fresh air.
Planning for new operational considerations
Schools must adopt permanent solutions to address sanitation and testing as they plan to reconfigure learning environments and open spaces. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published an online handbook dedicated to effective cleaning and disinfecting for schools, which can help guide administrators in the right direction. Part of their advice includes:
Implementing ongoing testing
Regularly testing staff and students means having the right testing protocols and equipment, including advanced digital thermometers and reminder posters throughout the building. Some schools have started to use wristbands to verify successful tests with an easy visual cue.
Installing touchless devices
Bottle fillers, handwashing stations, towel dispensers and hand dryers, faucets, toilets, trash cans, and even automatic doors can be brought into schools to eliminate any cross-contamination fears. Some schools are taking the touchless concept even further, investing in contactless devices that monitor students’ temperatures, track attendance, detect masks, and automatically open doors on their behalf.
Improving ventilation and filtration
Sufficient ventilation is of the utmost importance in today’s environment. In addition to keeping windows and doors open when possible, the CDC recommends using fans to improve room air mixing, high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters in central HVAC systems, and air purifiers. According to one recent study on high schools, air purifiers made a big difference in schools: while window ventilation reduced COVID-19 infection by 55 percent, adding an air purifier dropped infection rates by 75 percent.
Boosting sanitation efforts
Everyone on school grounds will feel safer if they see dedicated resources for improved cleaning efforts. Frequently touched surfaces, like doorknobs and light switches, should be cleaned and sanitized regularly. For busier sanitation schedules—and more surfaces to clean—new equipment is needed to help small teams do more with less hands. Consider cleaning sprayers, which can disinfect large areas with ease.
Students and staff should be reminded to wash hands regularly, or use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol both before and after they come in contact with surfaces. Many schools have opted to install sanitizer stations throughout the facility to help enforce these rules. Others have chosen to add ultraviolet light disinfectant units to the environment. A robust cleaning schedule will require the right equipment and gear for cleaning staff, such as gloves, face masks and, of course, cleaning supplies.
Secure your K-12 school supplies soon
Making these changes isn’t easy—or inexpensive. Luckily, help is available. In 2020, Congress passed two relief bills creating more than $67 billion for elementary and secondary school emergency relief. Many schools have already taken advantage of these funds for construction projects, technology, PPE, sanitation, filtration and ventilation, and physical spacing projects.
More recently, the American Rescue Plan was announced, which will provide schools with $122 billion to reopen safely. And the CDC will be providing $10 billion to states to support COVID-19 screening for K-12 teachers, staff, and students.
As you prepare for the 2021-2022 school year, give peace of mind to your staff and students as many of them come back to the classroom full time. We can supply everything you need for a safe K-12 reopening.
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