Questions (and Answers!) About Reopening Schools Safely
How do you plan to minimize health risks for your students and staff upon reopening?
There is no single answer, but schools and districts around the country are doing their best to support a safe return to school. In a recent webinar, school health service leaders gathered to discuss how they’re approaching this critical question.
NCSN, RN, BSN
Health Services Coordinator, New Braunfels ISD and President Elect of the Texas School Nurses Organization
RN, NCSN, MPA/HCA
Director of Health Services for Dallas ISD
Director of Nursing Services for Charleston County School District
Vice President Francis Howell School Board and Retired Nurse Coordinator for Francis Howell Schools
Throughout the webinar, attendees submitted thought-provoking questions, and you’ll find the panelists’ answers below.
If you’re interested in hearing in-depth answers to any of the following — and many more — tune in to the on-demand webinar .
- How prepared are your schools to make required changes to food service, physical education, and extra curriculars? Only 3% of webinar attendees felt “very prepared”!
- How prepared are your schools to support proper social distancing between students in classrooms and other settings?
- How prepared are your schools to communicate, enforce, and monitor new policies around safe practices?
- How prepared are your schools to track screenings for students and staff, both in and out of school? Will that allow you to capture early warning indicators of a potential resurgence?
Questions from the Audience with Answers from the Experts
Q: What application or app can you use to track temperatures and health screenings?
Karen: We’re hoping that our IT department is going to help us create one and/or determine whether there might be one that’s already available. HIPAA compliance will be very important. Only the nurse should be able to see names of individuals — certain information should not be available to office staff as they are pulled in to review health screening responses. Since there isn’t a way that one person could take care of a large school, we’re considering technology that allows us to limit system visibility based on role to help us stay compliant.
Did you know?
Frontline offers a HIPAA-compliant app for daily health screenings for students and staff that seamlessly connects to Frontline School Health Management. Check It Out
Q: What does screening — not only for COVID-19 but also for “normal” mandated screening like weight, blood pressure, scoliosis, vision, hearing — look like when your district opts for a hybrid model?
Janet: Missouri doesn’t have any mandated screenings, so in a way, we are very lucky that we don’t have to worry about that yet. But we have one set of recommendations that we have already asked our Department of Elementary and Secondary Education if we could get a waiver for those for this school year.
Karen: Flexibility will be key for all of this. We’re going to need to see how the virus progresses as we return to school, and then come up with a plan that will keep our students safe and still be able to screen them if indeed it is continuously required.
Did you know?
Frontline’s EHR, part of Frontline School Health Management, offers immunization tracking and has a direct connection to many state registries. Check It Out
Q: If we have a positive COVID-19 case when school starts in August, we’re going to close schools for 14 days and disinfect that school. We are also going to contact trace those positive cases and exclude household members from other campuses. Does this seem like a reasonable route to take?
Ellen: Work with your health department and make sure that you are in line with their recommendations. Of course, we all know we can do more than what is required. It may be that your administration requires additional education. There is so much anxiety and panic surrounding this situation, and some people may not have all the facts.
Q: If we have a student who has been in the classroom and then presents COVID-19 symptoms, but has not yet tested positive for the illness, do students who have been within six feet of that student also need to go home? Do you have any thoughts on policies around that? What does the circle of quarantine around that student look like?
Janet: At our district, if a nurse sends a student home with symptoms, that student will be excluded for 72 hours unless we get a negative COVID test result back — all parents will be told that up front. Communication is key in situations like this one.
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Q: How soon will health departments able to contact schools regarding students who need to be excluded from school due to a positive COVID test? Who do you think needs to be notified about a positive test in the classroom, and how will that be done?
Jennifer: It’s not simply that you want to know — it’s really a matter of public health. Just like other communicable diseases that occur in a school setting, the school notifies students in that classroom along with their parents. In my district, we also send out a general notification to the remaining population and a more specific notification to those students who were impacted directly in that class or were near that student.
Q: Do you have information flowing to you from the health department, state, or county? And if so, how quickly are they able to get you COVID-positive data?
Jennifer: It’s all about relationships. Fortunately, we have a great relationship with our local health department. That communication prior to the closure was within the same day, if not within a couple of hours.
Ellen: We get reports from our staff faster than we would from the DHEC. That’s why we have started trying to do our own investigation and get people the information — whether they need to isolate or quarantine — and then make sure that they’re following through on that. That’s been extremely helpful in preventing further transmission in the schools.
“At Frontline, we’re working to make this a “yes” so that district-wide testing prior to return will be feasible.”
— Alex Brecher, Webinar Moderator, Frontline Education
Q: How do you feel about district-wide testing prior to returning to school?
Ellen: I’m going to be extremely honest and say when my administration wanted to start testing, I was against it, because it’s just that snapshot of their health status at that moment. But now I’m more of a believer because we did testing for our summer athletes and had quite a few positive but asymptomatic students. If those positive students had continued to play, they could have spread the disease to more people. By being able to identify them through the testing, we were able to make sure that they isolated, which helped to keep their peers safe, and were also able to provide their household with guidance on close contacts and quarantine. So now I’m a believer.
Q: What are the recommendations for audiologists, speech therapists, and other staff members who work in close proximity to students? How do we do that in the new normal?
Ellen: We’re going to definitely need to provide them with the correct PPE. Being that close, they would need a cloth face mask to protect the other person. You would want to make sure that you have a shield for that individual to help protect them. Depending upon what their task is, they may need an isolation gown as well. And if they’re going to be dealing with any type of bodily fluids, they would need to also have gloves. I think the shield would be extremely important to provide them the best protection.
Janet: We will be providing all of our speech therapists with shields just for that reason, especially with the speech, because the kids need to see how the mouths move and where to hold their tongues and everything. So our speech therapists will all be given shields. Like Ellen said, the other person may need to wear a mask, and you may have to remove it. Gloves, of course. The PPE is going to be huge.
And unfortunately, we haven’t even hit on the topic of funding for all this, because we all know state funding is not what it was. So who’s going to provide that and where are we going to find the money for all that stuff? It’s huge.
“At the end of the day, our students still need to be served.”
— Jennifer Finley, RN, NCSM, MPA/HCA, Director of Health Services, Dallas ISD