DESE Releases Preliminary School Opening Guidelines

By: Katherine Goloboy (Correspondent)

As the end of the school inches closer and closer many people have begun discussing what going back to school will look like this fall. Many different options for what learning will look like next year are currently being discussed.

When students eventually return to the traditional school setting, they will likely see extra sanitation throughout the day, social distancing measures in place, possible staggered scheduling, and remote learning. Sharon is forming committees to prepare for the 2020-21 school year and will follow the lead of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

The DESE has released a preliminary set of guidelines for schools which include the following:

  • Staying home if sick: As the social contract of reopening, students and staff must stay home if they are feeling sick or have any symptom associated with COVID-19.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Maintaining six feet of separation at all times: All students and staff must maintain a social distance of six feet to the greatest extent possible. Desks must be spaced at least six 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 six 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, it is not recommended to temperature check students at entry due to the significant number of both false positive and false negative results.

Many people are hoping that schools are extremely cautious when they begin having students return to class. “I think that schools will be much more cautious and take extra precautions to keep us safe,” said Josie Cunningham.

Sharon students have their own predictions for what they think school at SHS is going to look like. “I think that school will be different, classrooms will be set up differently with desks spread farther apart, and lunch would definitely be different, and I’m not sure how the school would work with passing periods with the entire school in the hallways,” said freshman Lili Taylor. 

Ms. Novick, an English teacher at SHS, says, “I am really hopeful that we will see a vaccine soon, but I don’t think we can wait until that moment to return to school.

 “I would not feel comfortable returning to school before a vaccine becomes available. I think that the most important thing right now is to slow the spread of the virus long enough for researchers to get a vaccine,” Cunningham added.

If students return to school this fall it would show huge progress in our country’s return to some type of normalcy. However, figuring out a way for kids to stay safe but attend school in person is not a simple task and is going to take different ideas and many discussions before any sort of decision is made.

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