Many private schools have contacted us at The National Center for Life and Liberty requesting guidance concerning re-opening for in-person instruction this fall. First, let us remind you that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Every school has a different culture, environment, facility, and population. Second, your leadership must determine what is best for your faculty and staff, parents, and students. However, we have developed a resource to give some guidance and ideas as you consider all the different factors for your school to successfully re-open and serve your families with in-person instruction this fall.
Zoom or Distance Learning Options
If your school is able, we recommend that you offer families the ability to choose between an in-person option and a distance option for the fall semester. This may consist of at-home learning through online content delivery or virtual instruction via Zoom. With some children in higher risk categories and some families uneasy about a fall return to in-person instruction, the virtual, at-home learning option provides some flexibility for this first semester. Our recommendation is to allow each family to choose for each student the virtual or in-person model for the fall and to stay with that choice until the following semester. This provides your school the ability to retain as many of your students as possible during the pandemic.
We recommend your school communicate clearly to parents and staff your expectations for the fall. This school year is going to be unlike anything we have experienced before, with significant changes in the way the school day operates. Communication is going to be key and should include written, verbal, and visual communication. Following staff training, we recommend you create “before you start school in the fall” videos posted for families to view, with teachers demonstrating hallway interactions, social distancing, masks, etc. This type of interactive and informative communication will ensure smoother implementation of your policies and help staff remain completely on the same page.
Sanitation & Cleaning
This year sanitation and cleaning strategies need to be expanded to ensure that you do not expose your school to increased liability. Proper and consistent sanitation procedures demonstrate you are not being negligent in protecting the health of your students and staff members.
Here are some areas for consideration:
- All classroom surfaces, such as tables, desks, chairs, and credenzas should be sanitized daily with sanitizers that work against COVID-19. See the EPA list provided
- Every evening bathrooms, hallways, and large surfaces such as handrails, etc., should be disinfected.
- Each family can be asked to supply disinfectant wipes and spray as part of the yearly supply list so that each student is responsible for his or her area.
- Students should not be allowed to bring anything but books and academic materials to class. All additional items should be left at home.
- Libraries should rotate books so that recently read books are not placed immediately back on the shelves.
- Bathrooms should be periodically wiped down and disinfected throughout the day, as able, as multiple usage could increase exposure.
- Between lunch groups (if certain age groups eat at different times), the cafeteria area should be completely wiped down and disinfected.
- For preschools, toys should be rotated throughout the week to accommodate for a reasonable system of daily sanitation of toys.
- For preschools and kindergarten programs, there should be a daily cleaning schedule for toys and utensils posted in each classroom.
- For preschools, if your children take naps, nap mats and all pillows and blankets should remain at school in large Ziplock bags (provided by you) and sent home on Fridays for wash and return.
At this time, our recommendation would be to close all water fountains and provide bottles of water during the day to the students. You can also ask that students bring their own reusable water bottle from home that can be used throughout the day and cleaned in the evening at home by the parents.
As we all know, illness is a part of life, but as we look to limit the spread of COVID-19 and potential liability, we need to think through sick policies that ensure the health and well-being of all those who attend.
- If a child becomes symptomatic, with itchy eyes, dry cough, and/or fever during the school day, the student should immediately be sent to the office and isolated with a staff member monitoring from at least six feet of distance and wearing a mask. A parent should be required to pick up the child within one to two hours’ time.
- Your sick policy should reflect a 72-hour waiting period after fever and all other symptoms have ceased without the use of medication and should include a doctor’s note that no COVID-19 testing is necessary or that the child is no longer infected with COVID-19. (Hard copy notes or tele-doc notes are acceptable.)
- If a member of the household is diagnosed with COVID-19, we recommend the child(ren) stay home for at five business days or the equivalent of one week to observe for symptoms. A COVID-19 test can also be administered if available.
If a positive COVID case is identified in school, your school will need to work with local health departments and adhere to CDC guidelines regarding quarantines or temporary closures. Parents and staff should be notified if students or staff have been in contact with a COVID-19 diagnosed person during the school day.
Required Daily Screenings
Staff: All persons except the following should be prohibited from accessing your buildings: operations staff, law enforcement officers, child care licensing personnel, and department of children and families protective services staff; professionals providing services to children; and children enrolled at the school;
- Parents should not be allowed in buildings.
- All permitted staff should be re-screened daily before entering buildings.
- Anyone with a fever over 99.5F should not be allowed into school.
Students: Parents should be asked to do their own screening at home before sending children to school. Once arriving at school, additional screening needs to take place to ensure that children meet proper health standards for attendance.
- Be sure staff and students do not have fever, runny nose, cough, diarrhea, or any of the symptoms listed in our parent handbook or any COVID-19-like symptoms. Direct parents not to medicate children to mask symptoms before sending them to school.
- Upon arrival, you should ask basic questions about each child’s and family’s health.
- Parents may come out of their cars and wait for screening; however, each parent should wear a mask. Parents should wait while your staff screen each child.
- Your staff should take each child’s temperature and check for any signs of illness. A temperature of 99.5 or higher should require the child to return home. Once deemed safe to enter, give the parent and the child the all clear, and escort or send the child to class.
Self-Reporting: A system should be put in place to request all staff to regularly report any symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, body aches, sore throat, congestion, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of sense of smell/taste, or exposure to COVID-19. Staff with symptoms or exposure should be asked to refrain from returning to school until symptom free.
Class sizes should adjust to accommodate for the recommendation of smaller groups if able especially for younger children. Children and childcare providers should not change from one group to another. Each class should remain in their respective classrooms and not change classes during the day for younger students. Outside play should be limited to only one class not multiple class interacting during that time.
A hand sanitizer station should be available in each classroom. Students should be asked to sanitize their hands throughout the day as they come in and out of classrooms.
We recommend that when available, restrooms are deemed for single use only. However, if multiple children must be able to use a restroom at the same time, we recommend 50% capacity usage with others waiting outside the door not inside the restroom facility.
Hallways & Social Congregating
During the school day, students are used to congregating in hallways between classes, in groups before school, and in pick-up lines after school. We recommend social distancing practices before and after school with limited hallway interactions. Dismissing grades or classes at different times ensures smaller crowds of students congregate in hallways or stairwells during the school day.
As much as possible, we recommend that physical education takes place outdoors. Outdoor activities will decrease the likelihood of exposure. Indoor workouts or events where participants are close to each other, like playing basketball, should be limited for the time being.
During initial months, we recommend not using lockers and instead requiring backpacks that students take from classroom to classroom. This contains items and keeps students from being in a confined space between classes. This is an optional step, but it could be helpful in promoting social distancing.
Some schools are choosing to put up plastic “shields” or dividers so that students speak, talk, or sing into the shield at the front of each desk like we see at many gas stations and stores. This can be helpful if you allow students to take off their masks while at their desks
Many schools provide musical instruments to students. The use of these instruments by multiple students needs to be handled carefully to avoid unnecessary cross-contamination. Instruments should be cleaned thoroughly between each use, or transition to a different model of usage during this time.
- When in close contact with students, staff members should be encouraged to wear a mask.
- Children over the age of three should wear face coverings within the facility.
- When students are at their desks, if the desks are socially distant from one another, students may remove their masks. Shields are being used at many schools to protect students once in the classroom, seated at their desks.
- If a parent states his or her child is medically unable to wear a mask, this needs to be honored, but the parent needs to provide an exemption from a doctor.
- Teachers should wear masks when feasible at drop off and pick up, during snack times for younger kids, lunch times, and other times when students are clustered.
- Six feet of physical distance between students should be attempted when feasible, knowing that this is not always able to be accomplished.
- When feasible, such as during lunch time, students should be seated further apart. In younger grades, this will be harder to manage, as expected.
Public School Standard
As private schools, we can evaluate how public schools are reacting, but we do not need to follow their lead. We recommend you evaluate how your local public schools are handling things, assess your response, and determine how to ensure your plan is implemented safely and successfully regardless of how the public school district is responding.
Update your Tuition Policy
- Ensure that you have non-refundable language in your tuition policy.
- Just in case, make sure you have wording covering the school if you have to go back to at-home education for all students
- Additionally, you should state that as long as your school is open and running per CDC and stats/local government guidelines, no refunds will be given due to a child’s illness, temporary quarantine mandate, or inability or change of mind to attend school.
- In your tuition agreement, it should state that your school has the right to suspend or close school at any time due to new health mandates or guidance from CDC or state/local government.
In compliance with the CDC and state/local government guidelines, you should not offer family-style lunches. Single-serve lunches and snacks should be provided, or utilize a mandatory bring-your-own-lunch policy.
Every parent should sign a liability waiver. They should be told that if they are uncomfortable with sending their child to school with your precautions in place, they should keep their child at home. They should sign a waiver stating that as a parent of the child attending, they assume all risks associated with allowing their child to attend.
Because every school and ministry is unique and faces a variety of circumstances, it is to be expected they will do things differently. The recommendations above are not hard and fast rules. They are policies for you to consider to keep your staff and students safe from contracting this virus. Whether you personally believe the virus is serious or not, you incur serious liability when you take children from the care of their parents into your own care. For the sake of your school and ministry, it is vitally important that these measures are considered carefully as you move toward in-person instruction this fall.
As schools, preschools, and daycares determine how best to respond, remember there is no one-size-fits-all solution. If you are still trying to determine how best to navigate this complicated time for your church or ministry, please contact our office, and one of our team members will gladly assist you in answering your questions. You may contact our office by calling 888-233-6255 or emailing email@example.com.