After the Pause: Back to School?

November 25, 2020 by Drew Smith

COVID-19 has disrupted our work and family life like no other crisis in recent history. With many more parents working from home and a hodge-podge of school re-opening plans underway across the country, the concept of “Back to School” remains elusive. And whether schools opt for in-person, remote, or hybrid teaching models, parents are scrambling to keep work and school schedules on track amidst a pandemic.

“We’re all making hard choices,” said Keith Oberman, V.P. of sales at Copiers Plus. “Every decision involves a risk/benefits analysis. We’re used to applying this practice in business, but when it comes to the health and safety of our kids, of our teachers and families, it’s exceptionally complicated.”

State-Wide Choices

In North Carolina, state-wide guidance issued on October 5, 2020 provided elementary (K-5) schools a choice of three options:

Plan A.
Schools must implement important safety measures, including face coverings, social distancing, symptom screening, and cleaning. However, there is no requirement to reduce the number of children in the classroom.

Plan B.
A modified Plan B allows children to attend school in person but requires fewer children in the classroom. Both plans A and B allow local school districts to provide a remote-learning option for any child who chooses it.

Plan C.
Parents can also choose an all-remote learning option for their child if they feel this is best.

If this sounds stressful or confusing to you, you are not alone. Individual districts and even individual schools are making—and changing—plans in real time, depending upon case numbers in each community.

Expert Guidance

Still, even amidst a predominance of uncertainty, public health experts provide some simple mitigation strategies for safely bringing children and teachers back to brick-and-mortar schooling. The CDC has created a color-coded chart to simplify key indicators and thresholds for school openings.

Mitigation Strategies to Reduce Transmission Include:

  • Masks
  • Social distancing
  • Hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette
  • Cleaning and disinfecting
  • Contact tracing
  • Cohorts (pods) – where students and teachers remain exclusively with a small group
  • Adequate supplies
  • Staggered scheduling
  • Ventilation
  • Water systems
  • Physical barriers and guides

In addition, the Strong Schools NC Public Health Toolkit outlines requirements for opening schools, including:

  • Limiting nonessential visitors and activities involving outside organizations
  • Creating one-way hallways and entrances
  • Suspending activities that bring together large groups such as assemblies
  • Creating a way to isolate students who have symptoms and ensuring they get home safely

Risks and Benefits in our Communities

A recent study from Brown University suggests that schools aren’t necessarily the super-spreader environments we fear. Further, some doctors and public health advocates believe there are “powerful arguments for in-person schooling wherever possible, particularly for younger students and those with special needs,” as discussed in the October 14, 2020 briefing by the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

“Copiers Plus is a third-generation family business,” said Oberman, “so we’re especially aware of the difficulties families are facing now. This is uncharted territory for all of us. The bottom line? We remain committed to providing the same product and service expertise our customers deserve. Especially now.”