Latest Guidance Offers More Tips for School Worker COVID-19 Safety

Frank Ferreri

Washington, DC ( – The push to reopen schools continues to ramp up, with some districts announcing a full return to regular operations come school year 2021-2022.

So, it’s no surprise that the U.S. Department of Education has released its second round of guidance on reopening. As with the first volume of its COVID-19 Handbook, the latest batch of information includes considerations for the safety of school employees, which the following chart highlights.

Staff Considerations

Education Department Guidance

Physically healthy environments As has been true throughout most of the pandemic, ED emphasized:

  • Universal and correct wearing of masks.
  • Physical distancing.
  • Handwashing and respiratory etiquette.
  • Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities, including proper school ventilation.
  • Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine.

More specifically, the department also advised that building administrators should be in communication with the custodial team daily to ensure recommendations for cleaning and disinfection of the facility are being followed.

Also, principals “should make it a habit to tour the building to monitor cleaning and provide remedies in areas of need.”

Ventilation Noting that some 40 percent of school districts across the country need to replace their HVAC systems, the department suggested that districts unable to do so should turn to cost-effective short-term solutions such as air filters and cleaners.

Likewise, educators should look for opportunities to get students outside when possible. For example, some New York City schools have converted blacktop roofs into outdoor classroom spaces and “many schools in more temperate climates” have developed outdoor learning classroom spaces.

Hiring additional staff The department noted reports from educators indicating increased stress and working hours, so hiring more teachers can decrease demands on current educators’ time. Additionally, more teachers and staff are necessary to support smaller class sizes to accommodate social distancing.

ED also recommended that schools increase the availability of other qualified personnel, such as teaching candidates, recently retired educators, and noninstructional staff to decrease teachers’ workloads.

Substitute teachers Along similar lines to hiring and using additional staffers, the department advised schools to “build and maintain a cadre of high-quality substitute teachers.” This is especially important for when teachers need to take time off for illness or when in isolation or quarantine.
Mental, emotional, and physical health needs of school staff To address educator burnout and provide mental health care, the department highlighted school districts that incorporate social and emotional learning in their professional development programs. For example, having small staff cohorts lead the social and emotional growth specifically for adults in schools has been linked to increases in morale.
Leave policies According to ED, “The pandemic should … prompt school communities to reevaluate compensatory time off and sick leave policies and practices.”

Additionally, the department advised school districts to provide time for educators and staff to get vaccinated if they aren’t providing on-site vaccination opportunities.

Similarly, districts should provide necessary personal protective equipment for reopening schools.

Wellness resources The department suggested that school districts:

  • Make accessible the health services staff need through employee assistance programs.
  • Make human resource representatives present on school campuses regularly.
  • Provide wellness services remotely or visit school campuses following the proper safety and prevention protocols.
  • Host on-campus wellness fairs.
  • Provide free wellness check-ups.
  • Offer free or reduced gym memberships from local community partners.

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