Educators in both public and independent systems across Northeast Ohio want students back in school this fall in a safe and secure environment as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
To lend a hand, University Hospitals of Cleveland recently released the UH Rainbow Healthy Restart Playbook for Reopening Schools. This is a free toolkit to support primary and secondary schools preparing to reopen buildings that have been closed since mid-March under a statewide mandate.
“The hardest part about this has been that in all circumstances people want answers,” said Dr. Joan Zoltanski, who heads UH Healthy Restart. “There is not one definite recommendation. There is not a one-size-fits-all.”
The playbook, which has been downloaded more than 2,000 times, combines information from psychologists, medical doctors as well as experts in infectious diseases, environmental health and diversity.
Healthy Restart does not specifically advise whether students should convene virtually or in person, Dr. Zoltanski said. That decision is up to each public or independent school system.
Although the UH playbook gives flexibility to each school system, there are key recommendations, including the ABCD’s. It stands for Always wear a mask, Be aware of your symptoms, Clean your hands and space and Distance physically, but not socially. A fever is a temperature of 100 degrees or higher, according to the playbook. It also recommends that schools use an EPA-registered disinfectant against COVID-19.
The playbook reviews what the new school day could look like, including staggered lockers to avoid crowding, blocking access to drinking fountains or cleaning them often, and staggered pickup and departure times. There is also advice on how to talk to children about COVID-19, including being reassuring, honest and giving them space to talk about their feelings. Dr. Zoltanski said that one of the biggest challenges is enforcing these guidelines, such as making sure students wear their masks properly.
“That is without a doubt the most challenging part of it,” she said. “We’re encouraging them to try on different masks at home. One of them will be more comfortable than others.”
University Hospitals gathered input from various stakeholders, including the Cleveland Council of Independent Schools and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. There are 15 schools in the council of independent schools, including Gilmour Academy, Hawken School, Laurel School and University School.
Alison McCloskey, director of the Cleveland Council of Independent Schools, said that all the schools want to fully reopen in person.
“Although we looked at every angle, there’s no way to eliminate 100 percent of the risks,” she said. “We will mitigate risks until a vaccine is available. We will thoughtfully react to the external conditions and will be guided by our public health experts.”
Ms. McCloskey advised that the independent schools are taking many safety precautions, including having mask policies, smaller class sizes and frequent cleaning. Some schools are also using Swivl and Owl technology, a camera that moves to provide a 360 degree view of the classroom virtually.
University School Head of School Patrick Gallagher said that US plans to reopen fully in person. There will also be a distance learning option for students and families whose circumstances necessitate that model, he said last week. The Upper School is in Hunting Valley and lower school in Shaker Heights.
He said that US has added day shifts of operation for maintenance and has expanded the staff to disinfect high touch surfaces more often. US also is following guidelines regarding wearing masks, social distancing and minimizing traffic flow throughout the buildings. There will be temperature checks at school and before loading school buses that are provided by US. Mr. Gallagher said that the biggest challenge is to maintain the school’s sense of community.
“US is a special place. It’s a very intimate learning environment that values everything the student does inside and outside of the classroom,” he said. “It is built on strong relationships. The challenge is to maintain those priorities even as we have to change some aspects of school life right now. The method may change but our mission has not.”
D. Scott Looney, head of school at Hawken, said that the administration has not yet decided if it will reopen virtually or in person. Hawken will be prepared for both options, he said, including guidelines for masks, distancing and sanitation. Hawken’s Mastery School will still open this fall at University Circle with the first cohort of 36 students. Mr. Looney said that the UH Healthy Restart team and the playbook were especially helpful to Hawken in offering advice for distancing children in classrooms and during lunch.
In addition, he said that he appreciates the advice on how to talk to young children about the pandemic and the importance of following rules. Hawken educates children from pre-school trough 12th grade on its campuses in Chester Township and Lyndhurst.
“Figuring out how to talk to a 4-year-old about wearing a mask is complicated,” Mr. Looney said. “We don’t want them carrying the worry. We want adults to carry the worry so they can just be kids.”
The UH Rainbow Healthy Restart Playbook for Reopening Schools is available to download for free at https://www.uhhospitals.org/university-hospitals-healthy-restart.