Feb. 12, 2021 — Back in December, Joe Biden pledged to reopen most of the country’s schools within his first 100 days as president, assuming certain conditions were met. With the CDC’s newly revised
guidelines and Biden’s proposal to send $130 billion to schools, many school systems are looking to do just that. New research suggests that if districts mandate mask-wearing, hand-washing, social distancing, and other measures, the spread inside schools could be lower than in the larger community.
But many teachers have struggled with district policies that ignored previous CDC guidelines. Federal and state occupational safety and health administrations have logged hundreds of COVID-related complaints covering thousands of public and private K-12 schools. And that represents only half the country, since 24 states prohibit public school employees from lodging complaints.
“A pandemic is not an individual health problem. It’s a public health problem,” says Theresa Chapple-McGruder, PhD, a perinatal and pediatric epidemiologist in the Washington, DC, area who has been consulting with school districts on COVID safety issues. “We’ve been taking individual risk mitigation approaches: Wear a mask, wash your hands. We’re talking about things people can do, and we’re not talking as much about things public health systems should be doing. In a pandemic, the answer isn’t ‘Get exercise and eat three healthy meals a day.’”
Even before federal funding reaches school districts to pay for more ways to ease the COVID-19 risk, many teachers will be expected to return to the classroom. If you’re among them, the tips that follow can help keep you safe.
The physical setup of your classroom can go a long way toward keeping you and your students safe:
These steps can all help you protect yourself, but at the end of the day, the responsibility should lie with your school district. “Yes, do the three W’s, but know that it’s not a force field,” says Chapple-McGruder. “Policy needs to do the rest.”
CDC: “Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Mitigation,” “How Do I Set Up My Classroom?”
Kaiser Health News: “‘We’re Not Controlling It in Our Schools’: Covid Safety Lapses Abound Across US.”
Pediatrics: “Incidence and Secondary Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 Infections in Schools.”
News – Expert Tips for Teachers When Schools Reopen