Plexiglass dividers, health screenings among safety measures in districts’ reopening plans

Dive Brief:

  • Detroit Public Schools recently released a draft of its reopening plan, based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that proposes using cafeterias and auditoriums as classrooms, conducting daily COVID-19 screenings and requiring high school students to attend school in-person on alternating weeks, Chalkbeat reports. Elementary and middle school students would attend class every day, but with social distancing measures implemented.
  • Among the district’s proposed social distancing measures: no more than 20 students in each class, personal protective equipment available to students and staff, disinfectant wipes available for teachers and plexiglass barriers erected in high-traffic areas.
  • Surveys taken in the district indicate 61% of parents want their child to attend school in the fall, but only 50% of the teachers say they are ready to return to school. If the plan is implemented, staff must have a negative COVID-19 test result before returning to school and must complete training on health and safety.

Dive Insight:

New protocols will be a costly undertaking for districts as they reopen with new social distancing controls to protect students and staff from the novel coronavirus. A cost analysis by AASA, The School Superintendents Association, estimates that implementing safety measures for reopening will cost an average district $1.78 million.

The most expensive safety measures will be additional staff. Custodians will cost $448,000, full-time and part-time nurses will cost $400,000 and aides who give temperature checks before students board buses will cost $384,000. Daily disposable masks for staff will cost $44,415.

Despite the costs, many districts are forging ahead with ways to get students back into classrooms. California’s Department of Education recently issued a guide detailing reopening proposals. It recommends temperature checks be conducted before entering schools or boarding buses, hand washing throughout the day and social distancing by students in halls, on buses and at recess. It would also require students and staff to wear face masks.

Some parents are also asking for continued online learning options, and the state is encouraging districts to allow that. Ultimately, reopening decisions will be made at the local level.

Massachusetts, meanwhile, doesn’t plan to use temperature checks due to the high rate of false positives or negatives, but masks will be required for both students and staff. Parents will be responsible for providing students with masks, but schools must also have backup masks in case a student forgets theirs. Classrooms will also have to be redesigned to allow for six feet of separation at all times, and class sizes will be significantly smaller.

Meanwhile, statewide budget cuts throughout the country are expected to be as high as 10% to 25% in the upcoming school year and as much as 35% in the 2021-22 school year. Los Angeles Unified School District and five other districts in California said a planned $7 billion budget cut in California would mean schools wouldn’t be able to reopen in the fall.

In news that could change the trajectory of preparations, the World Health Organization on Monday announced asymptomatic spread of coronavirus is “very rare.” If so, the finding may call into question whether the high cost of equipping schools with health and safety gear and staff is worth the price. According to the WHO report, those without symptoms are unlikely to pass on the virus based on contact tracing findings.

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