How five American schools reopened without triggering a covid epidemic

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“Cleaning up high traffic areas is very important in schools,” Cogan said. But wearing a mask, physical distancing, vaccinations and other measures are “higher protective factors.”

8. Give parents and teachers free rein to protect their children.

Last school year, many districts used temperature checks and symptom screens to try to catch infected students before spreading the coronavirus to others. But in Austin, Indiana, these formalized projections have proven to be less useful than the intuition of teachers and parents. Instructors could identify when a student was not feeling well and ask them to see the nurse, even if that student passed a temperature check.

Jetelina said teachers and parents can both act as a layer of protection, preventing a sick child from entering the classroom. “Parents are good enough at understanding their children’s symptoms and their children’s health,” she said.

In Andrews, Texas, district administrators provided parents with information on symptoms of covid and tasked those parents with determining when a child might need to stay home after school. The Texas district may have “gone too far in handing the agency over to parents,” Cogan said, allowing students to opt out of quarantines and wearing masks, echoing concerns from the Department of Public Health. Andrews County.

9. We need more granular data to drive school policies.

Throughout the pandemic, I have consistently denounced a lack of detailed public data on covid-19 cases in schools. The federal government still does not provide such data, and most states offer scattered numbers that do not provide crucial context for cases (like registration or in-person testing numbers). Without these numbers, it is difficult to compare school districts and identify success stories.

My research on school reopens has brought to light another data problem: Most states do not provide all covid-19 down to the individual district, making it difficult for principals to know when to tighten or relax security protocols. In the small district of Port Orford-Langlois in Oregon, for example, administrators had to rely on covid-19 numbers for their entire county. Even though the district had no cases in the fall of 2020, it was unable to bring older students back in person until spring, as outbreaks in another part of the county increased the number of case. Cogan observed similar problems in New Jersey.

At the local level, school districts can work with their local public health departments to get the data they need for more informed decision-making, Jetelina said. But at a broader systemic level, it’s harder to get granular data on covid-19, a job for the federal government.

10. Invest in school staff and invite them to contribute to safety strategies.

School staff described working long hours, learning about the science of covid-19, and showing immense determination and creativity to provide their students with a decent school experience. Teaching is usually hard work, but over the past 18 months it has become heroic, even though many people outside of school environments take the job for granted, said Jetelina.

Districts can thank their staff by giving them a say in decisions about school safety, Cogan recommended. “The educators – they have had a terrible time and they have a lot more to do,” she said. But “everyone who works in a school has them too. This includes guards, cafeteria workers and, most importantly, school nurses, whom Cogan calls the school’s “chief welfare officers.”

11. Provide space for students and staff to deal with the challenges of the pandemic.

About 117,000 children in the United States have lost one or both parents during the pandemic, according to a study from Imperial College London. Thousands more have lost other parents, mentors and friends, while millions of children have faced loss of family jobs, food and housing insecurity and other hardships . Even if a school district has all the proper safety logistics, school staff cannot really support students unless they allow time and space to deal with the trauma they have experienced.

PS 705 in Brooklyn can serve as a model for this practice. School staff preemptively contacted families when a student missed class, offering support: “705 is exactly the kind of place where it’s kind of a school” Wrap your arms around everything. family, ”said a relative.

On the first day of school in September 2021, when many students returned in person for the first time since spring 2020, the school held a minute of silence for loved ones the school community has lost.

New challenges ahead

These lessons are drawn from school communities that passed the 2020-2021 school year, before the Delta variant hit the United States. This highly transmissible strain of the virus poses new challenges for the fall semester of 2021. Analysis of the data underlying this project led me to primarily profile rural communities, who may have been lucky with a low number of covid-19 cases during previous phases of the pandemic, but which are now unable to escape the delta. For example, Oregon County, including Port Orford-Langlois, experienced its highest case rates to date in August 2021.

The delta challenge is multiplied by a growing focus on masks, vaccines and other safety measures. Yet Jetelina stressed that there are also “a ton of champions,” referring to parents, teachers, public health experts and others who continue to learn from past experiences of reopening schools – and pleading for their communities to do a better job. .

The Solutions Journalism Network supported this project with a report grant, as well as training and other advice. Learn more about the five school communities that I described in this project for the COVID-19 Data Dispatch.

This story is part of Pandemic Technology Project, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation.

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