By Wendi Rank
Each July, I obsess over school supplies. I have different concerns this year.
As a nurse – and parent of some very unhygienic middle schoolers – my concerns range from the practical (will the kids really wear a mask all day?) to the fantastical (will my kids’ refusal to use soap make the virus stronger?).
The stream of ever-evolving research spewing from my phone adds to my stress. Knowing the rules schools are obligated to follow can ease confusion. Understanding the risks of being in school can help too.
Pennsylvania requires districts to have a Health and Safety Plan. They must share this plan with the state and post it on the school’s website. Mandatory points can be found here.
Kids must wear face coverings. Some are exempt, and “face covering” has a broad definition. A list of exemptions and acceptable face coverings can be found here.
Families are obligated to check for symptoms daily. Kids sharing a closed space must be six feet apart and can’t face each other.
Schools must be able to assess for illness if symptoms develop. Sick kids require isolation until they’re picked up, but the school doesn’t need to close. Confidentiality must be maintained. Schools need flexible absence policies.
The practice of “cohorting” – or keeping the same groups of kids together each day, throughout the day – plays a big role. Schools need to cohort use of lockers, cafeterias, and playgrounds.
Food needs to be served as individual platters. Kids need to be six feet apart and can’t sit across from each other while eating.
Hallways must be marked for one-way transit. Schools need to alternate period dismissal times to minimize numbers in hallways.
Other mandates direct bussing, disinfection, communications, personal protective equipment, and special needs students. More details on all regulations can be found here.
Can School Get Kids Sick?
The American Academy of Pediatrics points to research showing kids fared poorly once schools closed this spring. The Pennsylvania Capital Star reported on a study from Chicago and a review by researchers at Harvard and other institutions. The data indicated kids get seriously ill with COVID-19 at a lower rate than adults. They also appear less likely to transmit this coronavirus.
But the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia points out schools closed early in the pandemic. Data on the impact schools have on community spread is lacking.
Other data shows kids with pre-existing disease and minority children have higher rates of hospitalization.
A conversation with infectious disease experts showed their concern for reopening schools. A superintendent pointed out one student death in the wake of reopening is too many.
In the coming weeks, school districts are deciding how to open. As they do, we’ll discuss what it takes to send the kids to school, our alternatives, and special circumstances, like transportation and special needs.
In the meantime, I’ll get my kids to use soap. For all of us.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Wendi Rank is a Montgomery County native with a graduate degree from LaSalle University. She has worked as a school nurse, a registered nurse and nurse practitioner in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. She has previously written for the journal Nursing.
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