BOSTON (WHDH) – If schools across the Commonwealth get the green light to reopen in the fall, the in-class learning experience won’t be what it was like prior to the coronavirus pandemic, according to safety guidance that was shared Friday by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
As of right now, the reopening of schools hinges on the availability of “key safety supplies,” Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley wrote in a memorandum.
“We are issuing this guidance on key safety supplies now so that districts can begin the ordering process for critical items that may be harder to procure and/or have longer potential delivery times,” Riley wrote. “We are operating with the best information we have as of early June about how to maintain the health and safety of our students and staff.”
The guidance includes drastically cutting down on class size to ensure social distancing measures are followed and requiring all students to wear masks or face coverings.
Schools will be required to have at least a 12-week supply of face coverings, masks, sanitizer, disposable gloves, and other protective items on hand at the start of the new school year to guard against coronavirus, according to the state.
In order to maintain the health and safety of students and staff during in-person school programs and limit the risk of COVID-19 transmission, the following health and safety guidelines will be in place:
Staying home if sick
As part of the social compact of re-opening, students and staff must stay home if they are feeling sick or have any symptom associated with COVID-19. This means that schools will need to have enhanced protocols in place for managing staff and student absences.
Face coverings and masks
Students and staff must wear face coverings or masks, with exceptions only for those students or staff for whom it is not safe to do so due to age, medical conditions, or other considerations. In cases in which face coverings or masks are not possible, social distancing of 6 feet is required, unless not feasible due to the personal situation. Parents will be responsible for providing students with face coverings or masks. Schools must have backup disposable masks available for students who need them. Staff may choose to wear their own mask or one provided by the school.
Frequent hand washing and hand sanitizing
All students and staff must engage in frequent hand washing, including upon arrival, before and after meals, after bathroom use, after coughing or sneezing, and before dismissal. Protocols must be established for effective hand washing in which individuals use soap and water to wash all surfaces of their hands for at least 20 seconds, wait for visible lather, rinse thoroughly, and dry with an individual disposable towel. If hand washing is not available, hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol content can be used.
Maintaining 6 feet of separation at all times
All students and staff must maintain a social distance of 6 feet to the greatest extent possible. Desks must be spaced at least 6 feet apart and facing the same direction, and protocols must be developed to maintain this distance when students are entering and exiting the building and moving through the school (including to and within restrooms) when feasible.
Isolation and discharge protocols for students who may become ill during the day
Schools must develop protocols for isolation and discharge of students who become sick during the school day. A specific room must be maintained for students with COVID-19 symptoms that is separate from the nurse’s office or other space where other ailments are treated.
Smaller, isolated groups of students assigned to one teacher
Successfully implementing 6 feet of social distancing will require significantly smaller class sizes and reduced staff-to-student ratios. Furthermore, where feasible, programs should isolate individual groups of students with one consistently assigned teacher, and groups should not mix with other students or staff. At this time, group sizes are restricted to a maximum of 10 students, with a maximum of 12 individuals, including students and staff, in each room
Regular cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting, and disposal protocols
Schools will need to undertake new protocols and routines to ensure that facilities and surfaces are regularly cleaned, sanitized, and disinfected in accordance with health and safety guidelines and that hazardous materials are disposed of properly.
Entry screening and other facility operations
While additional information about symptom screening and other facility operations will be provided in the coming weeks, after discussions with the COVID-19 Command Center’s Medical Advisory Committee, it is not recommended to temperature check students at entry due to the significant number of both false positive and false negative results.
The state says it used the following basic assumptions to develop its list of required supply items and initial recommended ordering quantities:
Students will bring their own face coverings or masks to school, but schools will have a backup supply of masks on hand for students who do not have them, or if their masks become otherwise not useable during the school day.
Schools will provide face coverings or masks for all teachers and staff who do not bring their own.
Students and staff will engage in frequent hand sanitizing.
Custodians will need to be equipped with appropriate masks, gloves, and a proper waste disposal medium.
Nurses and health providers will need additional specialized supplies to properly isolate and discharge suspected COVID-19 positive students.