SALT LAKE CITY — As many students prepare to return to the classroom next month, schools are taking a lot of safety precautions. But what happens in case of an outbreak of COVID-19 at a school?
That’s just one more thing that districts across the state are now trying to plan for and prevent.
“We’re really trying to anticipate what could happen if this were to come around again,” said Steven Dunham, spokesperson for Washington County School District. “How can we minimize the impact to our schools, to our students and to our staff members.”
The KSL Education Impact Team reached out to multiple districts, asking what happens if there’s a case, or worse, an outbreak, at school?
Some districts understand that it’s not a matter of if, but when.
“We will have circumstances where a class is suspended for a period of time because of potential exposure,” said Ben Horsley, spokesperson for Granite School District.
Horsley said their schools are already trying to figure out ways to limit contact between kids so only a small group would need to be quarantined and learn from home if someone tests positive for COVID-19, not the entire school.
“What you won’t see is us using lockers anymore,” said Horsley. “We don’t want kids sitting in the hallways, mingling with each other.”
Horsley said lockers are a tremendous social opportunity and a quick way to spread germs.
Once-crowded hallways will now be more orderly, with kids sticking to one side when they’re walking.
Breaks between classes will also be longer, shorter or staggered, depending on the school, so students can avoid each other more easily.
“What we don’t want to see is large groups of classmates interacting during the school day and then having to suspend the entire school because of one case,” said Horsley.
In the elementary schools, Granite plans to keep kids together in pods. That means the same group of students will ride the bus together, sit in class together and go to lunch and recess together.
“Get tight and comfortable, make some new friends — you’re going to be with those people throughout the year,” said Horsley.
Many districts have also laid out plans for seating charts. The goal is to not only limit the spread of the virus, but also aid contact tracing when a case pops up. It will be a lot easier to figure out who might be infected if you know exactly who they’ve been sitting by.
“If there’s a case within that class because of a seating chart and the way that’s all set up and structured,(it should) only minimally impact a certain amount of people, either a class, a grade level, and potentially not the whole school,” said Horsley. Some districts, like Canyons, plan to ask three questions when a case pops up:
- Were the students wearing a mask?
- Were they socially distanced?
- Were they in close proximity for 15 minutes or more?
They hope an entire class won’t have to be quarantined if kids stick to the rules. Finally, what about kids who do get sick? The Utah State Board of Education requires every school to designate quarantine rooms. Any student showing symptoms will be quarantined until their parents can pick them up.
But it’s best not to send them to school in the first place.
“In the past, there’s been a little more flexibility in sending a sick kid to school. That flexibility is gone. We’re in the midst of a pandemic,” said Horsley. “Please do not send sick kids to school.”
One thing all the districts are focusing on in case of an outbreak is flexibility. They hope if kids have to stay home at some point during the school year, they’ll be able to do it seamlessly by switching back and forth between in-person learning and online instruction.