Education has been hit hard. Students, schools, colleges and universities have been deeply impacted since Covid-19 outbreak in late December 2019. It has wreaked havoc across the world and like any critical sector.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), over 800 million learners from around the world have been affected, 1 in 5 learners cannot attend school, 1 in 4 cannot attend higher education classes, and over 102 countries have ordered nationwide school closures while 11 have implemented localised school closure.
Globally, over 200,000 cases of the coronavirus have been reported in more than 160 countries, which have resulted in more than 8,000 deaths and left several States dealing with severe outbreaks. The COVID-19 pandemic will adversely impact the progress some governments were making around increasing the education budget. Therefore, this is a crisis that requires urgent attention and collective action by all Governments, stakeholders and communities.
Each day millions of children do not go to school due to emergencies and ongoing humanitarian crises. The outbreak of COVID-19 has compounded the plight of learners in countries affected and or emerging from conflict and disaster.
While the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) acknowledges the public health decision to close schools, we believe that contingency plans should be in place to ensure the right to education even in times of crisis. GCE is convinced that all learners no matter where they live and circumstances have a right to education. Education is an essential right for children, young and adults in emergencies and must be a priority from the very beginning of any and all emergency responses.
As schools plan for a safe return to campus this year, it is critically important to consider the health and well-being of students and staff, and address issues with COVID-19, mental and physical health, and managing other chronic health conditions. When school health policies and practices are put in place, healthy students can grow to be healthy and successful adults. “This return to school season is like no other.
Schools must be prepared to protect children from COVID-19, while also addressing a wide array of other pandemic-related challenges returning students are facing,” said CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH. “In addition to keeping students safe from COVID-19, they will need to provide safe and supportive school environments to promote student well-being and recovery.”
To best ensure students and staff can stay healthy—and physically together in school—here are key safety recommendations:
- COVID-19 Vaccine
All adults and children over age 12 currently eligible for COVID-19 vaccines should get fully immunized by the start of school year. People are considered fully vaccinated 2 weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine such as Johnson & Johnson’s.
- Face Mask
Everyone over age 2 years should wear face masks that cover the nose and mouth. This is a simple, proven tool to protect students unable to get the vaccine yet or who have chosen not to get it. When they fit well and are worn correctly and consistently, face masks are effective and safe to wear for long periods of time such as during the school day. The vast majority of children, even those with medical conditions, are able to safely and effectively wear face masks with practice, support and role-modeling by adults. Talk with your child’s pediatrician about certain medical and developmental conditions that would prohibit mask use.
- Physical Distancing
Students should remain at least 3 feet apart within classrooms when possible. In general, CDC recommends people who are not fully vaccinated maintain physical distance of at least 6 feet from other people who are not in their household. However, several studies from the 2020-2021 school year show low COVID-19 transmission levels among students in schools that had less than 6 feet of physical distance when the school used other prevention strategies, such as the use of masks. When possible, schools should use outdoor spaces and unused spaces for instruction and meals to help with distancing. Activities like singing, band and exercising, for example, are safest outdoors and spread out.
- Classroom Routines
To help limit student interaction outside the classroom, schools should consider:
- Having teachers move between classrooms, if possible, rather than having students fill the hallways during passing periods. Block schedules (fewer classes in a given day and electives in shorter time periods) can help limit cross-over of students and teachers.
- Allowing students to eat lunches at their desks or in small groups outdoors instead of in crowded lunchrooms. Because of the need to remove face masks while eating, it’s best to keep unvaccinated students six feet apart during lunch.
- Leaving classroom doors open to help reduce high touch surfaces such as doorknobs.
- When the weather and air quality allow it, open windows and doors to improve air circulation. Strategically located fans, promoting circulation or decrease in stagnant air, can be utilized to enhance outdoor air circulation.
The CDC recommends screening testing be offered to students who have not been fully vaccinated when there are higher levels of COVID-19 cases in the community. Testing screening can also offer added protection for schools that are not able to provide optimal physical distance between students.
Screening testing should be offered to all teachers and staff who have not been fully vaccinated. To be effective, the screening program should test at least once per week, and rapidly (within 24 hours) report results. Diagnostic testing is recommended when someone has COVID-19 symptoms, or recent known or suspected exposure to the virus.
- Temperature Checks
Taking students’ temperatures at school may not be feasible. However, families should monitor students’ health and keep them home if they have a fever of 100.4 degrees F or greater or any signs of illness.
Children appear less likely than adults to have symptoms and severe illness from COVID-19. Early studies also suggest those under age 10 may be less likely to be infected with and spread the infection. But, especially with new virus variants circulating, schools still need to plan for exposures.
If a student or staff member has close contact with someone with known to be infected with SARS-CoV-2, they should quarantine as recommended by local public health officials unless they are fully vaccinated. A person is known to be infected if they have a confirmed infection or illness consistent with COVID-19. Quarantine is typically at least 10 days from the last exposure or 7 days from last exposure with a negative test at least 5 days after exposure.
Vision and hearing screening should continue in schools, when possible. These services help identify children in need of treatment as soon as possible so sight or hearing problems don’t interfere with learning.
Schools provide more than just academics to children and adolescents. In addition to reading, writing and math, students learn social and emotional skills, get exercise, and have access to mental health and other support services. For many families, schools are where kids get healthy meals, access to the internet, and other vital services.
Schools are safe, stimulating, and enriching places for children and teens to learn. Families, schools, and communities can work together to help ensure students can safely return to and remain physically together in school this fall, where they need to be.