Following basic principles can help keep students, teachers, and staff safe at school and help stop the spread of this disease.
Recommendations for healthy schools are:
- Sick students, teachers and other staff should not come to school
- Schools should enforce regular hand washing with safe water and soap, alcohol rub/hand sanitizer or chlorine solution and, at a minimum, daily disinfection and cleaning of school surfaces
- Schools should provide water, sanitation and waste management facilities and follow environmental cleaning and decontamination procedures
- Schools should promote social distancing (a term applied to certain actions that are taken to slow down the spread of a highly contagious disease, including limiting large groups of people coming together)
KNOW THE LATESTS FACT
Understand basic information about coronavirus disease (COVID-19), including its symptoms, complications, how it is transmitted and how to prevent transmission. Stay informed about COVID-19 through reputable sources such as UNICEF, WHO and national health ministry advisories. Be aware of fake information/myths that may circulate by word-of-mouth or online.
ENSURE SAFE SCHOOL OPERATIONS
See ‘Checklist on Safe School Environments’ below;
Update or develop school emergency and contingency plans. Work with officials to guarantee schools are not used as shelters, treatment units, etc. Consider cancelling any community events/meetings that usually take place on school premises, based on risk.
Reinforce frequent hand washing and sanitation and procure needed supplies. Prepare and maintain hand washing stations with soap and water, and if possible, place alcohol-based hand rub (hand sanitizers) in each classroom, at entrances and exits, and near lunchrooms and toilets.
Clean and disinfect school buildings, classrooms and especially water and sanitation facilities at least once a day, particularly surfaces that are touched by many people (railings, lunch tables, sports equipment, door and window handles, toys, teaching and learning aids etc.)
Implement social distancing practices that may include:
- Staggering the beginning and end of the school day
- Cancelling assemblies, sports games and other events that create crowded conditions
- When possible, create space for children’s desks to be at least one meter apart
- Teach and model creating space and avoiding unnecessary touching
ESTABLISH PROCEDURES IF STUDENTS OR STAFF BECOME UNWELL
Plan ahead with local health authorities, school health staff and update emergency contact lists. Ensure a procedure for separating sick students and staff from those who are well – without creating stigma – and a process for informing parents/caregivers, and consulting with health care providers or health authorities wherever possible.
Students/staff may need to be referred directly to a health facility, depending on the situation/context, or sent home. Share procedures with staff, parents and students ahead of time.
PROMOTE INFORMATION SHARING
Coordinate and follow guidelines from the national health and education authorities. Share known information with staff, caregivers and students, providing updated information on the disease situation, including prevention and control efforts at school.
Reinforce that caregivers should alert the school and health care authorities if someone in their home has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and keep their child at home. Utilize parent-teacher committees and other mechanisms to promote information sharing.
Also be sure to address children’s questions and concerns, including through the development of child-friendly materials such as posters which can be placed on notice boards, in restrooms, and other central locations.
ADAPT SCHOOL POLICIES WHERE APPROPRIATE
Develop flexible attendance and sick leave policies that encourage students and staff to stay home when sick or when caring for sick family members. Discourage the use of perfect attendance awards and incentives. Identify critical job functions and positions, and plan for alternative coverage by cross- training staff. Plan for possible academic calendar changes, particularly in relation to breaks and exams.
MONITOR SCHOOL ATTENDANCE
Implement school absenteeism monitoring systems to track student and staff absence and compare against usual absenteeism patterns at the school. Alert local health authorities about large increases in student and staff absenteeism due to respiratory illnesses.
PLAN FOR CONTINUITY OF LEARNING
In the case of absenteeism/sick leave or temporary school closures, support continued access to quality education. This can include:
- Use of online/e-learning strategies
- Assigning reading and exercises for home study
- Radio, podcast or television broadcasts of academic content
- Assigning teachers to conduct remote daily or weekly follow up with students
- Review/develop accelerated education strategies
IMPLEMENT TARGETED HEALTH EDUCATION
Integrate disease prevention and control in daily activities and lessons. Ensure content is age-, gender-, ethnicity-, and disability-responsive and activities are built into existing subjects. (See Section on Age-Appropriate Health Education)
ADDRESS MENTAL HEALTH/PSYCHOSOCIAL SUPPORT NEEDS
Encourage children to discuss their questions and concerns. Explain it is normal that they may experience different reactions and encourage them to talk to teachers if they have any questions or concerns. Provide information in an honest, age-appropriate manner. Guide students on how to support their peers and prevent exclusion and bullying. Ensure teachers are aware of local resources for their own well-being. Work with school health workers/social workers to identify and support students and staff who exhibit signs of distress.
SUPPORT VULNERABLE POPULATIONS
Work with social service systems to ensure continuity of critical services that may take place in schools such as health screenings, feeding programs or therapies for children with special needs. Consider the specific needs of children with disabilities, and how marginalized populations may be more acutely impacted by the illness or its secondary effects. Examine any specific implications for girls that may increase their risk, such as responsibility for taking care of the sick at home, or exploitation when out of school.
CHECKLIST FOR SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS, TEACHERS AND STAFF
- Promote and demonstrate regular hand washing and positive hygiene behaviors and monitor their uptake. Ensure adequate, clean and separate toilets for girls and boys
- Ensure soap and safe water is available at age-appropriate hand washing stations
- Encourage frequent and thorough washing (at least 20 seconds)
- Place hand sanitizers in toilets, classrooms, halls, and near exits where possible
- Ensure adequate, clean and separate toilets or latrines for girls and boys
- Clean and disinfect school buildings, classrooms and especially water and sanitation facilities at least once a day, particularly surfaces that are touched by many people (railings, lunch tables, sports equipment, door and window handles, toys, teaching and learning aids etc.)
- Use sodium hypochlorite at 0.5% (equivalent 5000ppm) for disinfecting surfaces and 70% ethyl alcohol for disinfection of small items, and ensure appropriate equipment for cleaning staff
- Increase air flow and ventilation where climate allows (open windows, use air conditioning where available, etc.)
- Post signs encouraging good hand and respiratory hygiene practices
- Ensure trash is removed daily and disposed of safely
Source: World Health Organization (WHO)