Vice President, Workplace Practice National Safety Council
In moving past the crisis model of schooling, safety protocols remain essential as students and teachers return to in-person learning.
Employing more than 3 million teachers and staff, America’s schools should ensure safe working conditions, just as other employers do. Even if schools may not be significantly contributing to community spread of COVID-19, infection control protocols are still necessary. It will be up to school leaders to put together a plan meet the needs of their communities, while following the safety recommendations laid out by the CDC.
The CDC considers teachers and other staff as essential workers when it comes to prioritization of COVID-19 vaccination and provides guidance; and yet, each state is following its own prioritized rollout. In the meantime, the basic safety measures are key, including masking, especially until vaccines become widely available.
We can be SAFER
The Safe Actions for Employee Returns, or SAFER initiative from the National Safety Council, provides risk-prevention strategies to mitigate COVID-19 in the workplace. In school operations, social distancing controls and contact tracing will play important roles in ensuring a safe environment for both students and staff.
Measures could include re-organizing common spaces by removing furniture and reviewing seating arrangements; designating separate entrances and exits; installing physical barriers for areas where social distancing is hard to maintain; changing schedules to limit occupancy; restricting visitors; and maintaining occupancy limits in common spaces.
School leaders should train staff on protocols for entrance screening and reporting symptoms. Providing exposed employees, identified through continued testing and contact tracing, with the flexibility to self-quarantine for the recommended 10- to 14-day period, continues to be the standard. Now is also the time to create a vaccination plan for your workforce, share credible information, and support eligible employees in getting vaccinated.
For contact tracing, the goal should be to establish clear communication guidelines with staff in case of a positive COVID-19 test, while protecting privacy. Proper contact tracing can be key to safeguarding our schools. Data use policies for contact tracing apps should prioritize anonymous and encrypted geolocation details, and only keep data for the shortest period necessary, in order to maintain privacy.