Considerations for Schools and Districts in Purple Counties

Considerations for Schools and Districts in Purple Counties

Since the ordered school-building closure began on March 17, and subsequent Reset and Restart phase, Ohio’s education community has continually stepped up to ensure a student-centered approach to caring, teaching and learning. Ohio is experiencing increased COVID-19 cases each week, and as a result, Ohio currently has numerous counties categorized as Red (characterized by very high COVID-19 exposure and spread), according to the Ohio Public Health Advisory System. As counties across the state face the prospect of potentially being classified as Purple (characterized by severe COVID-19 exposure and spread), questions and subsequent debates are arising over the implications for schools and the safest and most effective mode of instruction. In particular, there are questions about the implications of the Purple level guidance to “only leave home for supplies and services.” Education qualifies as a service for purposes of this quoted statement. Many districts and schools have linked their reopening plans and contingencies to the Public Health Advisory System and have specified actions that would be taken at the Purple level. That said, there is no state mandate that schools operate exclusively in a remote manner should a county be categorized as Purple.
 

Local Decision:

As conditions change, the decision to hold classes in person, remotely or through a hybrid approach remains a local decision. Decisions should be informed in consultation with local health departments. Ohio’s education system must continue to be flexible and responsive to ensure the health and safety of all students, teachers and other employees. Actions may change as circumstances change; considerations should include the level of COVID-19 transmission in the community (as indicated by the Ohio Public Health Advisory System public emergency level), the school’s ability to implement key mitigation strategies to reduce transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 (see Appendix A), and the risk of transmission in schools presented by different learning modalities (Appendix B). District and school decisions also should be informed by their own in-person learning experiences. Many have gained important and meaningful experience over the past several weeks with students on campus.


Community Burden of COVID-19 Impacts the Risk of Introduction and Transmission of COVID-19 in Schools:

Schools have done well through the reset and restart phase of returning to in-person settings, and there has been little documented spread of COVID-19 attributed directly to the classroom setting. It bears recognizing that, by most indications, while in school buildings, Ohio students and educators are doing an effective job of complying with recommended health practices, especially mask-wearing guidelines. This is no small accomplishment, and the Ohio Department of Education congratulates school leaders, students and staff across the state for their efforts to keep one another safe and healthy.

At the same time, schools must remain vigilant in maintaining COVID-19 precautions. School leaders and students should be voices in their communities to reinforce the importance of wearing masks, distancing and not holding gatherings beyond the schoolgrounds – particularly in communities where there is elevated concern for spread.
 

Collaboration:

As decisions are made, continue to work with stakeholders and partners, especially being mindful of existing collective bargaining agreements and any previously negotiated Memoranda of Understanding. Treat all stakeholders with respect, honoring protocols for decision making and changing environments. There are polarized opinions on what is right and safe, so it is important to maintain respectful, collaborative relationships especially with staff and parents – while navigating the many decisions required through the changing landscape of COVID-19. Students, parents, teachers and staff should be a focus for collaboration and communication about decisions made regarding how educational programming will be delivered based on circumstances. Flexibility also should be a primary consideration affording options that meet the specific needs of students, and respectful of the wishes of parents as they make decisions based on the health and safety of their family.  
 

APPENDIX A

Mitigation strategies to reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in schools – from the Centers for Disease Control:

Regardless of what the indicators determine, it is critical to ensure the use and layering of mitigation strategies:
  • Masks: Encourage consistent and correct use of face masks, by all students, teachers, and staff to prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission through respiratory droplets. Exceptions for use of face masks include children under the age of 2 years and persons with or those who support individuals with cognitive, sensory, or behavioral issues.
  • Social Distancing to the extent possible: Maintain a distance of at least 6 feet between people. Learn more about promoting behaviors that reduce the spread of COVID-19.
  • Hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette: Teach and reinforce handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and increase monitoring to ensure adherence among students and staff. Encourage students and staff to cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and immediately wash their hands after blowing their nose, coughing or sneezing. Persons with disabilities may need assistance with hand hygiene. Learn more about promoting hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.
  • Cleaning and disinfection: Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces (e.g., playground equipment, door handles, sink handles, toilets, drinking fountains) within the school and on school buses at least daily or between use as much as possible.
  • Contact Tracing: Systematic contact tracing of infected students, teachers, and staff in collaboration with local health department.
  • Cohorting: Cohorts (or “pods”) are groups of students, and sometimes teachers or staff, that stay together throughout the school day to minimize exposure for students, teachers, and staff across the school environment. Ensure that cohorts are as static as possible by having the same group of students stay with the same teachers or staff (all day for young children, and as much as possible for older children). If additional space is needed to support cohorting, consider all available safe spaces in the community and any relevant partnerships with properly vetted school volunteers that can support students while minimizing group size. Consider ways to support equitable access to cohort support. Limit mixing between cohorts if possible.
  • Staying home when appropriate: Educate staff and families about when they and their child(ren) should stay home and when they can return to school. Learn more about preparing for someone is sick with COVID-19.
  • Adequate supplies: Support healthy hygiene behaviors by providing adequate supplies, including soap, hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol (for staff and older children who can safely use hand sanitizer), a way to dry hands, tissues, disinfectant wipes, face masks (as feasible) and no-touch/foot-pedal trash cans.
  • Staggered scheduling: Stagger school arrival and drop-off times or locations by cohort, or put in place other protocols to limit contact between cohorts, as well as direct contact with parents, as much as possible.
  • Alternating schedules with fixed cohorts: Alternate schedules with fixed cohorts of students and staff to decrease class size and promote social distancing to prevent wide scale transmission.
  • Shared objects: Discourage sharing of items, particularly those that are difficult to clean or disinfect.
  • Visitors: Limit any nonessential visitors, volunteers, and activities involving external groups or organizations as much as possible – especially with individuals who are not from the local geographic area (e.g., not from the same community, town, city, county). Persons with disabilities may need direct service providers or service animals in a school environment.
  • Ventilation: Ensure ventilation systems operate properly and increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible, for example by opening windows and doors. Do not open windows and doors if doing so poses a safety or health risk (e.g., risk of falling, triggering asthma symptoms) to anyone using the facility.
  • Water systems: Take steps to ensure that all water systems and features (e.g., sink faucets, decorative fountains) are safe to use after a prolonged facility shutdown.
  • Physical barriers and guides: Install physical barriers, such as sneeze guards and partitions, particularly in areas where it is difficult for individuals to remain at least 6 feet apart (e.g., reception desks).
  • Communal spaces: Close communal use of shared spaces, such as dining halls and playgrounds with shared playground equipment, if possible; otherwise, stagger use and clean and disinfect between use.
  • Food service: Avoid offering any self-serve food or drink options such as hot and cold food bars, salad or condiment bars, and drink stations. Have children bring their own meals as feasible, or serve individually plated or pre-packaged meals instead, while ensuring the safety of children with food allergies.pdf icon Learn more about food service during COVID-19.
Source: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/indicators.html#thresholds
 

APPENDIX B

Transmission risk in schools by learning modalities – from the Centers for Disease Control

Regardless of what the indicators determine, the more students or staff who interact and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of SARS-CoV-2 spread.
In general, the risk of SARS-CoV-2 spread in schools increases across the continuum of virtual, hybrid, to in-person learning with the risk moderated for hybrid and in-person learning based upon the range of mitigation strategies put in place and the extent they are correctly and consistently followed.
While not exhaustive, this stratification from Operating schools during COVID-19: CDC’s Considerations attempts to characterize the risks of spread among students, teachers, and staff across this continuum:


Lowest risk:

  • Students and teachers engage in virtual-only classes, activities, and events


Some risk:

  • Hybrid Education Delivery Model: Some students participate in virtual learning and other students participate in in-person learning

  • Small, in-person classes, activities, and events

  • Cohorting; leveraging all available safe community spaces, including outdoor spaces; alternating schedules, and staggered schedules are applied rigorously
  • No mixing of groups of students (i.e., cohorts) and teachers throughout/across school days
  • Students and teachers do not share objects
  • Students, teachers, and staff always follow all steps to protect themselves and others, including proper use of face masks, social distancing, hand hygiene, and respiratory etiquette
  • Regularly scheduled cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces implemented consistently


Medium risk:

  • Hybrid Education Delivery Model: Most students participate in in-person learning, some students participate in virtual learning
  • ​Larger in-person indoor classes, activities, and events
  • Cohorting, alternating schedules, and staggered schedules are applied with some exceptions
  • Some mixing of groups of students (i.e., cohorts) and teachers throughout/across school days
  • Students and teachers minimally share objects
  • Students, teachers, and staff follow all steps to protect themselves and others such as proper use of face masks, social distancing, hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette
  • Regularly scheduled cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces largely implemented consistently


Higher risk:

  • Full sized, in-person classes, activities, and events
  • Students minimally mix between classes and activities
  • Students and teachers share some objects
  • Students, teachers, and staff follow some steps to protect themselves and others at all times such as proper use of face masks, social distancing, hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette
  • Irregular cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces


Highest risk:

  • Full sized, in-person classes, activities, and events
  • Students mix freely between classes and activities
  • Students and teachers freely share objects
  • Students, teachers, and staff do not/are not required to follow steps to protect themselves and others such as proper use of face masks, social distancing, hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette
  • Irregular cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces


Youth Sports

The more people a child or coach interacts with, the closer the physical interaction, the longer that interaction, and the more sharing of equipment there is by multiple players, the higher the risk of SARS-CoV-2 spread. The risk of spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 increases in youth sports settings as follows:
  • Lowest risk: Performing skill-building drills or conditioning at home, alone, or with family members.
  • Increasing risk: Team-based practice.
  • More risk: Within-team competition.
  • Even more risk: Full competition between teams from the same local geographic area.
  • Highest risk: Full competition between teams from different geographic areas.
Source: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/indicators.html#thresholds
 
 

Last Modified: 4/14/2021 3:57:10 PM