By Mike dlott
Discovery Child Development Center Director
We know many parents have struggled with the decision of whether to send their child back to preschool and daycare. While families need to ultimately make the decision that is best for their family and their own comfort levels, there are certain steps that preschools and child care can and should be taking to protect the health and safety of their students, teachers and families. Our building was closed for several months during the spring and early summer. During that period, I dedicated significant time talking to medical professionals, environmental engineers, scientists and families. While we can never completely eliminate the risks from COVID-19 while it is spreading through our communities, the actions listed are important to reduce those risks as much as we can.
1. Class Size - How many students and teachers will be in my child's class? Research shows that the larger the group size, the greater the risk. At our school for example, we decided to reduce all of our class sizes by 50% this fall.
2. Health Screening - How are students screened before coming into school? It is important that students and families are asked every single day about possible symptoms and exposure to COVID. We set up daily questions through the Brightwheel App that parents must answer before checking their child into school. The app also allows us to quickly communicate with families if there are any health related updates during the day. Temperature checks may be helpful for identify for sick students, but they are not sufficient for screening students.
3. Illness - When should a student stay home from school and when are they able to return? Preschools and child care centers should be able to share the specific guidelines they have for excluding students from school. We utilize a decision tree that clearly spells out when a student would be ask to stay home and for how long. It is also important that there is a clear procedure for when they are able to come back to school (ex. a negative cover test, 10 days since symptoms began).
4. Positive Cases - If a student or teacher tests positive what will happen? While we hope there are not any cases at your child's school, there should be a clear plan for handling any positive cases. Would a classroom have to shut down, how about the rest of the school? Some of this will depend on what the local health department advises, but plans should be developed for any potential closings and may include remote learning options. Now that we know more about COVID, the goal is to have children in school as much as possible and to avoid large closures if possible. Decisions should be made in coordinations with health and safety professionals..
5. Masks - Will teachers and students wear masks at school? We know masks work to reduce the spread of COVID. Adults should be wearing them throughout the day, and all students who are able to wear them should wear them. With practice we have found students, especially in pre-k and kindergarten can do really well with masks.
6. Distancing - What social distancing strategies does the school use? While distancing in a preschool is difficult, there are a number of strategies that can be used to help. Reducing the number of students in a class provides more space to spread students out. We have utilized stable cohorts, eliminating as much as possible mixing between different classrooms. While we normally love having parents visit our classrooms, we have also restricted our building and classroom to essential visitors.
7. Air Quality - What steps is your school taking to keep the air in the classroom clean and healthy? We now know that COVID spreads through the air. We also know that good filtration and ventilation can make a real difference, especially when combined with the above strategies. At Discovery we have added air filters to every classroom to increase the rate of air changes per hour in the rooms. We have also increased the fresh air through our HVAC system, and regularly have our air filters changed. These steps are especially important in preschools and child care centers, as many do not have windows that open for safety reasons.
8. Hygiene - When will children be required to clean their hands? Handwashing should be scheduled throughout a child's day for students and staff. Critical times for washing and sanitizing include arrival at school, upon returning from outside, when using the restroom, before and after meals and before departing school.
9. Sanitizing - What is the plan for cleaning and sanitizing the school? Making sure a preschool or daycare has the highest standards for cleanliness, is always important, but especially now. Are toys and manipulatives regularly cleaned and sanitized? Is there special attention given to making sure high touch surfaces are kept clean?
10. Education - How is information on health and safety procedures shared with families? Communication is vitally important to make sure the whole community is aware of the school's policies and procedures. Information should be regularly shared and there should be a person coordinating the responses. We have a community compact that all parents at our school sign, a health and safety committee, a health and safety parent guide.