School virus protocols are top priority as kids prepare to return to the classroom

Back to School 2020

As children in Vermont. New Hampshire and the North Country prepare to return school next week, administrators say there’s a lot going on behind the scenes, especially when it comes to the health and safety of students and staff.

One big change: Gone are the days when you could send your child off in the morning with the sniffles or a mild cough. “The days of being able to send a child to school with just a little bit of Tylenol and hoping it goes away are over,” said New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut.

Tom Flanagan, superintendent of the Burlington School District, said every student who enters a school building will undergo a health check to screen out potential cases of the coronavirus.

“They’ll come to school if they’re a little sick,” Flanagan said. “This year we just can’t do that.”

New Hampshire schools are keeping an eye on “high exposure periods” such as the hallways between classes, said Edelblut. Those are places where state education officials are requiring face masks. Other decisions about health and safety will be made by individual schools.

“Where you’re able to attain social distancing, it will be a localized determination of that masking protocol where it makes sense,” he said.

Flanagan, who released the district’s reopening plan in more detail in mid-July, said Burlington students will be wearing masks “all day,” whether they’re in class or on the bus. The district is encouraging outdoor learning and is providing the space for students to get outside and to get fresh air and some time together outside of the four walls of the school,” Flanagan said.

Meanwhile, concerned about the disparate mask policies among New York school districts, the New York State United Teachers union wants state officials to make it mandatory to wear masks at all times indoors, except for break periods and in certain medical situations.

Megan Tuttle, president of the New Hampshire chapter of the National Education Association, said she wanted fewer suggestions and more hard and fast guidance from state officials.

“Maybe you should do this, maybe you should do that? H.V.A.C systems ‘should’ be upgraded and maintained?” said Tuttle, a mother of three. “There was nothing that specifically said they ‘would’ do that.”

“We just want to be safe, and we don’t know plan B, plan C or plan D.”

But after watching teachers band together over the summer, she says she feels confident with safety plans.

“We went into this for a reason. The educators in New Hampshire have done an amazing job, just like Vermont and New York,” said Tuttle. “Everyone stepped up and did what they needed to do.”

MORE: After outbreak, Essex County schools update reopening plans

Which, turns out to be a common theme among all districts.

In New York, Don Carlisto, the dean of students at Saranac Lake Middle School, says the myth about teachers having summers off has been busted.

“There have been countless educators that have spent the summer preparing, not only how to come back and teach their lessons, but [how] we can keep our students and colleagues safe,” Carlisto said.

“There have been countless educators that have spent the summer preparing, not only how to come back and teach their lessons, but [how] we can keep our students and colleagues safe,” he said.

Before the first day of school make sure to check in with your school district for any specific guidelines.

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