Schools should encourage but not require pupils to wear face coverings, draft directive says

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Credit: Elizabeth Mee

Elizabeth Mee’s classroom at Alliance College Ready School in Los Angeles is empty after the school closed against coronavirus.

Students should be encouraged but not required to use face coverings when California schools reopen for classroom instruction, according to a draft state “interim guidance” obtained by EdSource.

However, all staff should use face coverings, according to the document, which sources close to them were drafted by the California Department of Public Health in conjunction with the governor’s office.

This is just one of many questions addressed in the document on what schools should consider when reopening. The guidelines, he said, are based on “the best public health data available today, international best practices and the practical realities of managing school operations.”

State school administrators grapple with the multidimensional complexities of reopening schools in a system that serves more than 6 million students, by far the highest enrollment in the country.

What is striking about the guidelines, at least in their draft form, is the flexibility they would allow school districts on multiple issues. The document recognizes the diversity of districts and communities in California. It indicates that the implementation of the guidelines “will depend on local public health conditions” and “should be adapted to each context”, taking into account “the needs of students and families”.

One of the biggest concerns of school administrators is how to ensure social distancing in school settings. Significantly, the orientation project does not require a distance of six feet for the students, with the exception of six feet between the teacher’s desk and their students. Rather, he calls for “maximizing the space between seats, desks and bedding” and for schools to consider various ways “to establish the separation of students by other means if possible”. These could include “six feet between desks, partitions between desks, classroom floor markings to promote distance or organize desks to minimize face-to-face contact”.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to announce his much-anticipated advice on reopening schools soon, possibly as early as Friday. Jesse Melgar, Newsom’s press secretary, declined to comment on the draft guidelines, but said “the administration is committed to continuing to work with all stakeholders to support the safe reopening of schools.”

Terms such as “as far as possible”, “as much as possible” and “as far as possible” are sprinkled throughout the 10-page document. Here is an example: “Students should stay in the same space and in groups as small and cohesive as possible” and schools should “keep the same students and teachers or staff with each group as much as possible”.

In addition, schools should “limit joint activities to the extent possible. If this is not possible, stagger use, properly space occupants, and sanitize between uses. He also calls on schools “to minimize as much as possible rally movements in the corridors”. For example, schools should designate “more ways to enter and leave a campus” and implement “staggered split times when necessary or when students cannot stay in one room”.

As for staff who fall ill, schools should offer “flexible sick leave” – ​​again “where possible”.

The document appears to address concerns raised by many school administrators about the difficulties of having younger children wear masks, or maintaining social distancing at all times in large middle and high schools where students must move from room to room. from class to class throughout the school day. .

Nearly a dozen Los Angeles County district superintendents last week sent Newsom and other officials a strongly worded letter claiming that keeping students six feet from each other was “impractical” and “unrealistic” to expect students, especially people with disabilities or very young children, to wear face coverings during a whole school day.

Regarding the controversial issue of masks, the draft interim guidelines state that “students should be encouraged to use fabric face covers, especially in circumstances where physical distance cannot be maintained.”

That said, the guidelines also describe daunting procedures that they recommend schools adopt. Students’ temperatures should be taken on arrival with “non-contact” thermometers, as well as “visual well-being checks”. Students and staff should be interviewed as to whether they have exhibited symptoms of Covid-19, or if anyone in their household has suffered from it and they should be monitored throughout the day for signs of illness. . Schools should be cleaned and disinfected daily, including doorknobs, sink handles, bathroom surfaces, drinking foundations, play equipment, and shared items such as toys, games, and toys. art supplies.

It encourages schools to introduce as much fresh air to the outdoors as possible, while ensuring that opening windows does not pose a risk to safety or health, for example by letting in pollens or by exacerbating the symptoms of asthma. He advises the school district to check water supply systems that have been closed for a long time to minimize the risk of Legionnaires’ disease and other water-related illnesses.

Guidancee, at least in the form of a project, dodges the question of what to do about school sports and extracurricular activities. He says schools should limit gatherings to those where physical distancing is possible as well as “good hand hygiene.” Further advice on these issues “is forthcoming,” according to the document.

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