There are so many images floating around social media with the supposed recommendations made by the CDC and the governor about reopening Virginia schools. Unfortunately, a lot of the information being shared on social media is inaccurate or exaggerated, leading many teachers to panic. Recently, I spent several hours reading all the information about schools on the CDC and VDOE websites. In this post, I am breaking down exactly what is shared on these official websites so that you can distinguish fact from fiction when reading social media posts. I hope this information helps alleviate some of the stress you may be feeling about the upcoming school year.
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CDC Considerations for Reopening Virginia Schools
One of the biggest misconceptions I have seen about the CDC considerations for reopening schools is that everything listed on the CDC website must be implemented. In reality, the CDC website clearly states that all decisions and guidelines are being left up to state and local officials. The CDC considerations are meant to supplement (not replace) any state or local decisions. In other words, Virginia schools are not expected to adhere to every CDC guideline. While it would be great if every recommendation could be implemented, each school district has unique needs. That means that some recommendations will not be practical for every school district.
The CDC has broken its considerations into the following four categories:
- Promoting Behaviors that Reduce Spread
- Maintaining Healthy Environments
- Maintaining Healthy Operations
- Preparing for When Someone Gets Sick
Remember, the considerations in each of these categories are recommendations. They are not required. If you feel strongly about having a certain consideration implemented or you foresee problems with implementing one of the considerations, you should reach out to your district leaders and express your concerns. Many of the people making decisions about what the classroom will look like are not classroom teachers. Therefore, it is important for classroom teachers to speak up about what they think classrooms should look like in the fall.
Promoting Behaviors that Reduce Spread
The CDC encourages Virginia schools to implement strategies to reduce the spread of viruses such as COVID-19. Some strategies to reduce the spread include:
- Encourage students and staff who are sick or have been exposed to people with COVID-19 to stay home. It is suggested that those people stay home for the recommended quarantine period of two weeks.
- Teach and reinforce proper handwashing procedures. All students and staff should wash their hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds after sneezing, coughing, or touching a high-traffic surface.
- Teach and reinforce the use of cloth face coverings. The CDC recognizes that wearing a mask is not feasible for all students, but encourages the use of face coverings whenever possible.
- Post signs in high-traffic areas, reminding students and staff to practice good hygiene.
Maintaining Healthy Environments
The CDC also encourages districts to implement strategies to keep schools clean and to help people social distance. These strategies will likely present some of the greatest challenges and adjustments to Virginia schools. Some of the strategies for maintaining healthy environments include:
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at least once per day.
- Develop a schedule for increased, routine cleaning and disinfection.
- Limit the use of shared objects such as supplies, electronics, and manipulatives.
- Store each student’s belongings separate from others’ belongings using bins, containers, and cubbies.
- Ensure adequate supplies to minimize the sharing of materials.
- Increase the circulation of outside air as much as possible by opening windows and doors.
- If possible, space desks at least six feet apart.
- Face all desks in the same direction.
- Install sneeze guards or partitions in areas where it is difficult to space desks six feet apart.
- Close shared spaces such as gyms and cafeterias.
- Encourage students to bring their own water instead of using water fountains.
- Have students eat meals in their classrooms instead of a shared space such as a cafeteria.
- Offer pre-packaged lunches instead of buffet-style meals.
Maintaining Healthy Operations
One of the biggest challenges Virginia schools have had with the COVID-19 outbreak is that they were not prepared. Understandably, no one anticipated the outbreak of a virus that would close schools for months. The CDC has suggested strategies to help schools be more prepared in the future. Some strategies for maintaining healthy operations include:
- Offer options for staff and students at higher risk for severe illness.
- Whenever possible, use virtual activities and events rather than field trips, assemblies, special performances, etc.
- Limit nonessential visitors and volunteers as much as possible.
- Keep the same group of students with the same staff as much as possible (all day for elementary students, as much as possible for older students.)
- Stagger arrival and drop-off times.
- Implement flexible sick leave policies.
- If possible, conduct daily health checks. This could include temperature checks and/or symptom checks.
- Train back-up staff in case of long-term absenteeism caused by illness.
Preparing for When Someone Gets Sick
It’s inevitable… eventually, a teacher or student will get sick with COVID-19. So what should a Virginia school do when that happens? The CDC recommends the following guidelines:
- Immediately, separate staff or students with COVID-19 symptoms.
- Establish procedures for safely transporting any sick person to their home or hospital.
- Close off all areas used by the sick person for at least 24 hours. Then, clean and disinfect those areas.
- Staff and students who had contact with the person diagnosed with COVID-19 should self-quarantine and monitor symptoms for the recommended period of two weeks.
Virginia Governor and VDOE Response to Reopening Schools
On May 18, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced the formation of the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 Education Work Group to develop plans for how Virginia schools can reopen. The committee has two major goals. First, it will “develop recommendations on key issues schools must address before reopening.” After that has been accomplished, the group will focus on “long-term recovery plans.” Long-term recovery plans include addressing learning gaps created by school closures and the social-emotional needs of students resulting from COVID-19.
The COVID-19 Education Work Group is comprised of more than 40 public and private educational leaders from across the state of Virginia. According to the governor, the committee members include “teachers, parents, college presidents, state agency personnel, special education advocates, museum directors, and student perspectives.”
Upon reading through the list of committee members, I was shocked to find that no teachers were part of the list. Since the list was posted, many educators have been emailing the governor’s office to demand that teachers be added to the committee since they offer a unique perspective. This proves the importance of reaching out to leaders with concerns. A few days later, an email was sent out letting us know a teacher was added to the group. In addition, the Virginia Education Association will be hosting virtual strategy sessions on COVID-19 and public schools. These sessions are meant to allow teachers to give suggestions and feedback for reopening schools. You can register for one of those sessions HERE, but do so as soon as possible because spots are limited.
If you have additional questions or suggestions about the reopening of Virginia schools, you can email the governor HERE. Governor Northam is expected to announce a roadmap for Virginia schools and colleges in a few weeks. This roadmap will outline how schools and universities can return to in-person learning in a safe, responsible manner.
Right now, there is so much uncertainty about what the 2020-2021 school year will hold. This uncertainty can lead to significant stress. If you are feeling overwhelmed with the thought of what school will be like in the fall, I recommend you do two things. First, ignore what you see on social media and go directly to reliable sources such as CDC and VDOE websites. Second, do your best not to think about it right now. It is impossible to predict what will happen or what the world will look like between now and the start of the next school year. Enjoy your well-deserved break now and worry about Virginia schools reopening later in the summer.
You’ve already proved that you are capable of doing more than you imagined by finishing the last two months of the school year digitally. Whatever happens in the 2020-2021 school year, you will be able to handle that too!
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“Considerations for Schools.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, May 19, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/schools.html.
“Governor Northam Announces Education Work Group to Help Guide Process for Safe, Equitable Reopening of Schools.” Virginia Governor Ralph S. Northam. May 18, 2020. https://www.governor.virginia.gov/newsroom/all-releases/2020/may/headline-856846-en.html.