How Will Schools Keep Returning Students Safe from COVID-19?

School has resumed for some students throughout the country, but as communities across Maryland and the nation work to stop the spread of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), this new school year looks notably different. For many students, remote learning is the new normal. Children who will be returning to the classroom may do so with hesitation, having understandable concerns about their health and safety. School districts have to implement new guidelines to protecting students, teachers, and staff from contracting COVID-19.

Public and private schools throughout Maryland are taking varied approaches to school this fall. Some are allowing students to return in person five days a week, while others are providing online learning. Many more schools have developed hybrid options separating students into smaller groups that alternative between in-person and remote instruction. This hybrid model reduces class sizes to allow social distancing.

Starting the School Year with Remote Instruction

Across the Baltimore region and throughout the state, most Maryland schools will begin the year entirely online. In these counties, attendance will be taken in the morning. Students will report to class at scheduled times via live video calls, and assignments will be graded as usual. The goal is to mimic the traditional school day as much as possible and maintain a daily routine.

For many families, online instruction from home seems to be the safest option. Families have concerns about the risk of COVID-19 exposure and are not fully convinced their schools are taking adequate measures to protect children. Children with underlying health issues or family members who are especially vulnerable to the virus may opt for remote instruction indefinitely.

Benefits of In-Person Instruction

As many parents will attest based on their experience from the last school year, some children simply do not respond well to remote learning. Many children found the lack of structure, limited social interaction, and technology hurdles especially challenging. An online resource sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stresses the importance of getting children back in the classroom, once it is safe, for the following reasons:

  • Children have access to mental health support and other vital sources that are not available online.
  • Students learn essential social skills while interacting with their peers and teachers.
  • Because low-income families may not have access to technology, their children will inevitably fall behind during the pandemic.
  • There are concerns about too much screen time and its potential impact on children’s overall health and well-being.

What Happens When Maryland Schools Reopen?

Most states allowing in-person instruction are only doing so provided they have certain safety protocols in place to prevent transmission, and only if infection rates in their communities fall below a certain percentage. Maryland school administrators are working toward a plan for students to return full time eventually, once criteria can be met. However, what will the classroom after COVID-19 look like, and can parents trust it will be truly safe for their children?

Making School Safer During COVID-19

Schools that are allowing in-person instruction are making significant changes to protect staff and students. Although these modifications will surely evolve over time as we continue to learn more about the spread of COVID-19 and how to best prevent it, the following are some of the ways school will look different this year:

Changes in the Classroom

It is clear children are returning to a brand-new classroom experience this fall. Rooms have fewer desks, which are spaced at least six feet apart. Some school districts installed plastic shields to prevent the spread of respiratory droplets that may transmit the virus from person to person. Classrooms may also be outfitted with audiovisual equipment to allow lessons to be shared with students receiving remote instruction. Classroom surfaces and common areas are to be cleaned and sanitized often according to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Face Coverings

Cloth face coverings are required in most school districts throughout Maryland and the nation. The AAP recommends them for children over the age of two and reminds parents when worn correctly, cloth face masks are safe for long periods of time. Masks should fit well, cover both the nose and mouth, and be washed frequently.

Good Hand Hygiene

Frequent hand washing with soap is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The CDC recommends scrubbing the entire surface of both hands for at least 20 seconds to effectively remove dirt and germs. When soap and water are unavailable, hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol should be used instead. According to the CDC, key times to wash and sanitize hands include the following:

  • When preparing or eating meals
  • When treating a cut or wound
  • After using the restroom
  • After coughing, sneezing, or blowing one’s nose
  • After touching garbage
  • After touching an animal or its waste

Social Distancing

In addition to smaller class sizes, students will be seated several feet apart during instruction. To limit interaction, some schools will keep children in the same classroom throughout the day, as opposed to moving from class to class. In this model, teachers will rotate from room to room. Instead of congregating in the cafeteria for meals, lunches are to be eaten in the classroom as well, or outside during good weather. In hallways, students move in one-way directions to avoid gathering in groups.

Testing for COVID-19

Currently, the CDC is not advising schools to test students and employees for COVID-19. Because testing shows that a person is currently infected with COVID-19, it is not especially helpful at preventing prior exposure to others. Some schools are instituting daily temperature checks, but for others, this is not practical. Parents and guardians have a duty to monitor students’ health and keep children home if they have concerning symptoms or a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. The same guidelines apply to teachers and anyone working in the school. When in doubt, staying home is the best option.

What Happens if a Student has COVID-19 Symptoms?

Students who do not feel well should go to the school nurse per usual. The nurse will take the student’s temperature and assess their symptoms. Schools should establish an area to isolate any children who do not feel well. School nurses and other staff members working with potentially ill children should wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect themselves, such as disposable gowns, gloves, face shields, and N95 masks.

Laws Regarding School Response During a Pandemic

Parents might be surprised to know that 49 states have laws mandating how schools should respond during a health crisis. Although they vary slightly by state, most policies require schools to do the following:

  • Notify parents and the community if a student contracts a contagious disease
  • Exclude students with a contagious disease from school and institute guidelines for their readmittance
  • Revise attendance policies appropriately for students or staff who contract a contagious disease
  • Authorize school closures during an outbreak

Additional guidelines empower schools to adopt remote learning and disease prevention measures, such as those mentioned above to protect students from contracting COVID-19.

Although the nation is embarking on uncharted territory during this pandemic, schools have an obligation to do all they can to protect student health. A school illness or injury is not only physically devasting for a child but also has a far-reaching impact on their mental health and academic progress. Children are especially vulnerable now during this time of COVID-19. Parents who have concerns about their child’s health or safety in any regard should know their rights under the law and contact a personal injury lawyer if their child becomes ill at school.

Baltimore Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Advocate for Students Going Back to School During the Pandemic

Every parent wants the peace of mind knowing their child is safe at school. Although communities are facing many unknowns this new school year, the CDC and other agencies offer clear guidelines for ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Baltimore accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton protect the rights of minors and their families injured in school accidents. We will review the details of your case to assess who may be at fault. From there, we build your claim one detail at a time to establish liability and recover necessary compensation. Call us at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or submit an online inquiry to schedule a free consultation today.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.