Facilities and School Operations
How do we prepare for the return to campus?
LEAs will have to rethink the day-to-day use of facilities and school operations to limit staff and student exposure to the novel coronavirus in accordance with the latest public health information and best practices. This will necessitate new thinking around the use of space, nutrition and meal services, cleaning and disinfecting, ventilation, transportation, procurement and purchasing, technology use, and responses to a possible outbreak, among other things.
Because the virus that causes COVID-19 is transmitted when an infected person is in close proximity to others, increasing distance and reducing contact between people will help prevent the spread of the disease. Current scientific understanding suggests six feet as the proper amount of physical distancing required to reduce the chances of contamination. As our learning spaces were designed with spacing considerations that do not always match these enhanced requirements, re-thinking the way schools are physically organized will be necessary to help keep students and staff safe.
Space can improve or hinder safety. Before planning to bring students back to campus, LEAs should take stock of their space and create a plan for how it will be used to minimize exposure to the virus and maximize safety and learning. Districts and schools will need to consider how to accomplish physical distancing (6 feet to the greatest extent practicable) within learning settings and to avoid congregation of students or staff in hallways or general purpose rooms.
- Reopening Buildings After Prolonged Shutdown: After a long time of inactivity, buildings may require additional attention. Take steps to ensure that all water systems and features (for example, drinking fountains and decorative fountains) are safe to use after a prolonged facility shutdown to minimize the risk of Legionnaires’ disease and other diseases associated with water. The CDC offers guidance for reopening buildings after prolonged shutdown.
- Identify and Set Up an Isolation Area: Work with school administrators, nurses, and other healthcare providers to identify an isolation room or area to separate anyone who exhibits symptoms of COVID-19.
- Maximize Spacing: Develop instructions for maximizing spacing and ways to minimize movement in both indoor and outdoor spaces that are easy for students to understand and are developmentally appropriate.
- Leverage Non-Classroom Space: In order to allow physical distancing of 6 feet to the greatest extent possible, consider using non-classroom space for instruction, including regular use of outdoor space, weather permitting.
- Rearrange Classroom Spaces:
- Consider rearranging furniture and play spaces to maintain separation.
- Creatively organize space, use new tools for collaboration and communication, and foster deeper relationships that help bridge physical distance.
- Create Physical Separation in the Classroom:
- Maximize space between seating and/or desks. Distance teacher and other staff desks at least six feet away from student desks.
- Consider other ways to establish separation of students if practicable, such as partitions between desks, markings on classroom floors to promote distancing, and/or arranging desks in a way that minimizes face-to-face contact.
- Minimize Contact in the Classroom: Rearrange materials for easy access.
- Recess: Consider holding recess activities in separated areas designated by class/cohort to reduce individual exposure.
- Playgrounds and Playground Equipment: Limit use and sharing of playground equipment to the extent practicable. When shared use is allowed, clean and disinfect between uses.
- Streamline Foot Traffic:
- Establish more ways to enter and exit a campus to increase physical distancing.
- Minimize congregated movement through hallways as much as practicable.
- Create staggered passing times when necessary or when students cannot stay in one room.
- Create guidelines on the floor that students can follow to enable physical distancing while passing.
- Limiting Access to Schools: Limit nonessential visitors, volunteers, and activities involving other groups at the same time to reduce the risk of exposure.
- External Community Organizations: Evaluate whether and to what extent external community organizations can safely utilize the site and campus resources. Ensure external community organizations that use the facilities also follow guidance.
- Minimize Staff Room Use: Minimize the use of and congregation of adults in staff rooms, break rooms, and other settings, as physical distancing is a critical factor in reducing transmission between adults.
- Lockers: Schools can consider eliminating the use of lockers and moving to block scheduling, which supports the creation of cohort groups and reduces changes of classrooms. If eliminating lockers, schools may need to carry out additional planning to ensure students are not carrying home an unreasonable number of books on a daily basis.
- Post Helpful Signage: Consider posting signage at each public entrance of each site to inform all students, staff and visitors that they should:
- Avoid entering or using the facility if they have COVID-19 symptoms;
- Maintain a minimum six-foot distance from one another;
- Sneeze and cough into a cloth or tissue or, if not available, into one’s elbow;
- Wear face coverings, as appropriate; and
- Do not shake hands or engage in any unnecessary physical contact.
TOOLS AND RESOURCES
- CDC Guidance for Reopening Buildings After Prolonged Shutdown
- LACOE offers posters, graphics, directional signs and safety instructions you can use.
- Practitioner tools for learning together in a social distancing classroom
Meal time is traditionally one of the periods during a school day in which students and staff are in the greatest proximity to each other and, thus, at greatest risk of exposure to COVID-19. Scientists also suggest that the increased salivation during eating can increase the viral droplets that individuals spread. LEAs should plan on finding ways to increase physical distancing, reduce the sharing of utensils and other materials, and eliminate sharing of food between students.
- Outdoors and Classrooms: Serve meals outdoors or in classrooms where cohorts stay together instead of cafeterias or group dining rooms where practicable.
- Cafeterias and Dining Rooms: When cafeterias or group dining rooms must be used, keep students together in their cohort groups, ensure physical distancing, and consider assigned seating. Staggered eating times with cleaning periods in between can also be considered.
- Individually Plated or Bagged Meals: Serve individually plated or bagged meals. Avoid sharing of foods and utensils and buffet or family-style meals.
- Handling Food: Require that those handling or serving food use gloves in addition to face coverings.
- Contactless Systems: Consider using contactless systems, such as touchless point-of-sale systems and e-payments, to reduce direct contact with common surfaces and currency.
- Remind Students Not to Share Food: Schools in general discourage students from sharing food because of allergies and food preferences, but during COVID-19 it is critical to remind students to eat only their own food, not offer others their food, and under no circumstances touch another person’s food.
Because the virus that causes COVID-19 can also live on surfaces for a period of time, staff should clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at school and on school buses at least daily, and, as practicable, these surfaces should also be cleaned and disinfected frequently throughout the day by trained custodial staff.
- Cleaning Frequency: Establish a cleaning and disinfecting schedule in order to avoid both under- and over-use of cleaning products.
- Frequently Touched Surfaces: Provide extra attention to frequently touched surfaces. High-touch surfaces include in the school include, but are not limited to:
- Door handles
- Light switches
- Sink handles
- Bathroom surfaces
- Student desks
- Best Time to Clean: Plan to conduct thorough cleaning when children are not present to limit their exposure to fumes and/or cleaning materials. When cleaning, air out the space before children arrive.
- Custodial Staff Safety: Equip custodial staff and any other workers who clean and disinfect the school site with proper protective equipment, including gloves, eye protection, respiratory protection, and other appropriate protective equipment as required by the product instructions.
- Shared Objects and Equipment: Limit use and sharing of objects and equipment, such as toys, games, art supplies, and playground equipment, to the extent practicable. When shared use is allowed, clean and disinfect between uses.
- Cleaning and Disinfecting Products: Use those approved for use against COVID-19 on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)- approved list “N” and follow product instructions when choosing disinfecting products.
- Storage of Cleaning Products: Keep all products out of children’s reach and stored in a space with restricted access.
- Sample cleaning and disinfecting protocols and template schedule in the Marin County school site-specific plan guidance and template (p. 7-8)
- MCOE’s EPE Procurement and Cleaning Framework
The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads in droplets that are exhaled by someone who has the virus. Ventilation can reduce the amount of viral particles in a specific area by diluting them and thus help decrease the risk of exposure.
- Fresh Air: Introduce fresh outdoor air as much as possible, for example, by opening windows where practicable. If opening windows poses a safety or health risk (e.g., by allowing in pollen or exacerbating asthma symptoms) to persons using the facility, consider alternatives. For example, maximize central air filtration for HVAC systems.
- Improve Air Filtration: Consider improving central air filtration to MERV-13, or the highest compatible with the filter rack, and seal edges of the filter to limit bypass.
- HVAC and Outside Air: If using air conditioning, use the setting that brings in outside air.
- Outdoor Air Ventilation: The ventilation system should provide at least the California Title 24 code-required minimum ventilation rate. Note that if there was no ventilation and no filtration, the risk of long-range airborne infection would be over six times as high as that for a classroom with code-required ventilation and a MERV 8 filter.
- Ongoing Ventilation: Consider disabling “demand-controlled ventilation” (DCV), where systems automatically adjust the ventilation rate provided to a space to save energy in response to changes in condition such as occupants or indoor pollutant concentration.
- Reduce or Eliminate Recirculation: Considering opening minimum outdoor air dampers (as high as 100%) to reduce or eliminate recirculation.
- Systems Maintenance: Replace and check air filters and filtration systems to ensure optimal air quality. Contact the manufacturer for unit specific guidance and recommendations.
- Ventilation While Cleaning and Disinfecting: Ensure proper ventilation during cleaning and disinfecting to reduce the risk of infection. When cleaning, air out the space before children arrive.
- Systems Upgrades and Improvements: Consider installing portable high-efficiency air cleaners, upgrading the building’s air filters to the highest efficiency possible, and making other modifications to increase the quantity of outside air and ventilation in classrooms, offices, and other spaces.
With specific physical distancing requirements in place to reduce the exposure to and the spread of COVID-19, transportation is a topic LEAs will need to pay particular attention to, as riders must sit further apart than normal, reducing bus capacity.
- Face Coverings: Face covering requirements apply inside buses or vans for both students and staff. Ensure each rider wears a face covering.
- Seating: Maximize space between students and between students and the driver on school buses to the greatest extent practicable. LEAs may also consider loading from the back to the front of the bus to reduce physical interaction and letting siblings sit together to increase capacity. Assigned seating may also help in contact tracing.
- Physical Distancing and Reduced Capacity: Existing physical distancing requirements mean LEAs will likely have to reduce capacity in each bus. For more thinking on the matter, visit EdWeek’s “Getting Kids to School.”
- Reducing Ridership: Consider the following suggestions to decrease bus ridership so that bus transportation is available for those who need it most:
- Surveying parents to better understand which students will require transportation and which ones may not;
- Increasing walking radius, especially for older grades; and
- Facilitating a “walking school bus” in which students can join a vetted chaperone to walk to school. This may ease the anxiety some parents have related to students walking to school.
- Boarding: Before riders enter the bus, drivers or bus monitors must ensure each wears a face covering.
- Preventing Boarding: Create a plan to address students who may be prevented from boarding if exposure or symptoms are identified and/or if a student refuses to wear a face covering.
- Ventilation in Transportation: Increase air circulation as much as possible by opening windows and/or roof hatches, but do so only with first consideration of students with other medical concerns (e.g., students with asthma or allergies, who may be assigned seating at the front of the bus with windows up).
- Maintenance: Replace air-conditioning filters as recommended by manufacturers, to promote good ventilation.
- Cleaning and Disinfecting: Buses should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected daily and after transporting any individual who is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. Drivers should be provided disinfectant wipes and disposable gloves to support disinfection of frequently touched surfaces during the day.
- Adding a “Bus Monitor”: Consider assigning a bus monitor to accompany the driver. The monitor could take on safety-related tasks to allow the driver to focus on regular responsibilities.
- Staff/Volunteer Requirements: Staff and/or volunteers should:
- Complete a health screening per LEA protocol prior to beginning each shift;
- Wear face coverings at all times;
- Use gloves any time direct contact with a student is required; and
- Take part in related training.
- Additional Equipment: In order to follow the preceding recommendations, consider equipping each bus or van will with the following:
- Touchless thermometer;
- Hand sanitizer, either in mounted dispenser or to be dispensed by a designated person;
- Gloves to be used for any direct contact with a student;
- Disinfectant wipes; and
- Extra face masks
- SPECIAL CONSIDERATION:
- Transporting Individuals Who Are Sick or Have Symptoms While in School: Any students or staff exhibiting symptoms should immediately be required to wear a face covering and be required to wait in an isolation area until they can be transported home or to a healthcare facility as soon as practicable. LEAs should not assume students and staff will be able to provide their own transportation under those circumstances and thus LEAs may want to plan accordingly.
- Student Transportation Aligned for Return to School report by the National Association for Pupil Transportation, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, and the National School Transportation Association
- Handout for riding the bus from Dallas ISD
As students and staff return to school, LEAs should be proactive and keep in mind that even a single positive case among students and staff could potentially develop into an outbreak. Because outbreak circumstances and work practices vary, LEAs may need assistance from the local health department (LHD) to plan and coordinate a response to the outbreak.
- Periodically Review CDPH Guidance on Responding to an Outbreak: The California Department of Public Health has issued key guidance on responding to COVID-19 in the workplace that contains detailed recommendations for establishing a plan to identify cases, communicating with workers and other exposed persons, and conducting and assisting with contact tracing. Although some of that information is presented in this guidebook, LEAs should periodically review CDPH’s guidance for the most up-to-date information.
- Identify Cases: LEAs should prepare for identification of COVID-19 outbreaks in their workplaces. CDPH recommends:
- Designating a workplace infection prevention coordinator to implement COVID-19 infection prevention procedures and to manage COVID-related issues.
- Instructing employees to stay home and report to the employer if they are having symptoms of COVID-19, were diagnosed with COVID-19, or are awaiting test results for COVID-19. The same can apply to students.
- Developing mechanisms for tracking suspected and confirmed cases.
- Share Information with The Local Health Department: Schools and districts should prepare to share information with the local health department (LHD) and other stakeholders. CDPH recommends:
- Notifying the LHD where the school is located if there is a known or suspected outbreak in the workplace or if there is a laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19.
- Contacting the LHD in any jurisdiction where a COVID-19 positive person resides and let them know about the outbreak.
- Finding out how frequently the LHD expects updates from you on newly identified cases and symptomatic persons.
- Report Employee Cases to Cal/OSHA: Any serious injury, illness, or death occurring in any place of employment or in connection with any employment must be reported by the employer to the local Cal/OSHA district office immediately.
- For COVID-19, this includes inpatient hospitalizations and deaths among employees, even if work-relatedness is uncertain.
- Cal/OSHA prefers calls by phone but will also accept email reports that follow the Title 8 section 342 requirements. See the CAL/OSHA guidance for details on reporting and contact information for district offices.
- Investigate Cases and Update Protocols: Investigate the COVID-19 illness and exposures and determine if any work-related factors could have contributed to risk of infection. Update protocols as needed to prevent further cases.
- Maintain Effective Communication Systems. Maintain communication systems that allow staff and families to self-report symptoms and receive prompt notifications of exposures and closures, while maintaining confidentiality, as required by Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and state law related to privacy of educational records. Additional guidance on student privacy can be found here.
- Test Emergency Communication Systems: Consider testing existing communication channels and methods to ensure your LEA is able to reach staff quickly in case of an emergency.
Sample outbreak parent communication:
- “There is a COVID-19 positive case at our school and school will close.”
- “There is a COVID-19 positive case at our school and school will remain open.”
To help contain the spread of COVID-19, procuring and purchasing important supplies and equipment to protect students and staff will need to occur. LEAs should plan to budget for, purchase, and distribute additional supplies to individual sites in a timely manner. r.
Identify Needs: To ensure the safety of students, staff, and visitors, LEAs should also consider what equipment and supplies will be needed to implement new protocols. Here’s a list of purchases LEAs may want to consider.
Procure Supplies: After identifying what equipment and supplies LEAs will need, they should also plan on purchasing them through their regular procurement channels or new ones, if necessary.
Coordinate Distribution With Sites: Another important factor to consider is how equipment and supplies purchased centrally will make their way to specific sites. It may make sense to have them directly delivered to school sites to avoid more human interaction.
TOOLS AND RESOURCES
Because learning this year will occur both on and off-site, it is of the utmost importance that each student and educator have access to compatible devices and the internet to carry out distance or hybrid learning. In order for students to engage in remote or hybrid learning, they and their families and caregivers will need training and ongoing support on how to use the devices and programs. Educators, too, will need access to devices, wireless and/or broadband internet, programs, training, and ongoing support to use these tools.
In addition to students who may be on an alternating day or week schedule and need devices for remote and online work, LEAs should also plan on supporting students who may not be able to participate in in-person learning, including:
- Students who have a health condition or are immune-compromised;
- Students who cohabitate or regularly interact with high-risk individuals;
- Those who have symptoms of COVID-19 and thus need to be quarantined;
- Those who have been in contact with someone who has been infected or has symptoms of COVID-19; or
- Students who refuse to wear a face covering.
Thus, schools need a plan for flexible provision of devices and connectivity as well as a curricular approach that includes them in on-line learning with no delay in access to education.
LEAs may want to plan, launch, and sustain technology geared to enabling and supporting distance and hybrid learning.
Above all, school systems and schools should strive for simple technology solutions to ensure students, families, staff, and community partners can easily support remote learning.
- Establish Technology Needs: Identify the devices and programs that match the curriculum and student needs, including specific curricular programs, learning platforms, accessibility accommodations, and single sign-on capabilities.
Determine What Exists and Fill Any Technology Gaps: Inventory available devices and programs, identify what to procure to achieve 1:1 access for educators and students, secure internal funding or external support, and procure.
Plan for Training Students, Families, Caregivers, and Educators: Build a training and support plan that prepares all stakeholders, including those supporting students on remote school days, for device and program use.
Run an Improvement Cycle Focused on Access: Collect the relevant data to monitor technology access, analyze gaps, and address issues to reach goals
- Distribute Devices: Distribute devices to all students who do not have a dedicated device and/or Internet connectivity at home.
- Train Students, Families, Caregivers, and Educators on Technology Use: Ensure every stakeholder is trained in the use of devices and programs.
- Provide Ongoing Tech Support and Maintenance: Launch tech support and maintenance, including a help desk protocol and online support portal, so all stakeholders receive timely, high-quality support.
- Run an Improvement Cycle Focused on Implementation: Collect the relevant data to monitor which stakeholders need access and training.
- Run an Improvement Cycle Focused on Ensuring the Accessibility and Functioning of Devices and Programs: Continue providing high-quality tech support and maintenance services.
- Find ways to get access to all homes.
- Prioritize those students without access to in-person instruction.
- If a significant percentage of a community lacks Internet access via broadband or cell infrastructure, consider:
- Partnering with local access television stations to broadcast asynchronous lessons.
- Combining a paper-based curriculum (i.e., textbooks and packets) with phone check-ins from teachers.
- Partnering with local agencies to designate public wireless internet “zones” in neighborhoods and school parking lots.
TOOLS AND RESOURCES
- EdReports’ curriculum reviews with technology information
- TNTP learning management system decision making tool
- Information on CARES Act funding support for technology purchasing
- Instructions on planning and implementing a wireless internet zone for your town