Social distancing, sanitizing and busing among school return issues

Analyzing the operations of schools, should minimal to moderate spread of coronavirus in the state cause temporary closures, was the topic of discussion Thursday night as the Operations and Services reopening schools working group met for its second discussion.

“I think given the nature of the different variables of how [different waves of the virus] could come — peaks and valleys or slow burn — I think some sort of social distancing needs to be planned on by facilities,” noted Oliver Gumbs, co-chairman of the group and director of business operations at Cape Henlopen School District. “So I think we should make a recommendation that they should be looking at what type of social barriers and markings are needed to get the facilities prepared for any scenario that comes back.”

In scenario two, where the virus is spreading at a minimal to moderate rate between people, schools would have to be prepared to close their doors again and move to remote learning and could see tighter restrictions come back into place, including reducing large gatherings and implementing alternating schedules. Schools could see short term closures of two to five days and suspension of activities and those with increased risk of becoming severely ill could move to distance learning.

Having enough personnel to address cleaning concerns for both facilities and transportation surfaced as the group worked through the considerations before them.

“I think you’re also … when we talk about cleaning after every classroom change, that can’t be done by a three or four person custodial staff,” said Heath Chasanov, superintendent of Woodbridge School District. “There’s going to be times where paras or teachers might have spray bottles or something like that. There’s going to have to be training for all staff in some of these cleaning areas.”

If buses are to function at the recommended half capacity with one student per seat, Rep. Charles Postles noted, “What happens to the other half of the population?”

“We do not have the ability, under the current situation, to add drivers. Drivers are at a premium right now,” he said.

Natosha Rivera, transportation supervisor for Seaford School District, and Stacey Clark, director of instruction and student services for First State Military Academy, added that there are a lot of responsibilities placed on bus drivers under this model: from monitoring face coverings, to temperature checks, to making sure students are remaining separated.

“I do not know how you’re going to be on a bus with 25, 40 kids that are first grade, second grade, third grade and the bus driver is responsible for making sure that they’re socially distancing,” Ms. Clark said. “That can’t be the responsibility. I think with transportation we’d need to look at the funding impact of hiring other people to sit on that bus to assist if that’s our goal.”

For van transportation, or drivers with a special needs population, there was also concern about the ability to social distance. On buses, the consideration of leaving windows open at all times also prompted concerns for those with individualized plans that called for air conditioning, for both students and drivers.

Fiscal impact was also a factor the group noted as it viewed the different considerations. Ms. Rivera noted that there would be a financial impact for limiting capacity of students on the bus: less students impacts the times of transportation and an increase in time running students means a financial impact. Having hand sanitizer on the bus is another fiscal note.

“I’ve done some research this week and for transportation, for just cleaning, and increasing the equipment, will increase the funds about 10%,” Ms. Clark said. “I think overall, from a number of school superintendent associations, the association of business offices, they said about 20% to every budget. … I just want to make sure we’re looking at the funding.”

As the group considered alternatives, there was also cause to think outside of the box.

When considering limiting capacity for buses, Chuck Longfellow, co-chairman of the working group and associate secretary for the Delaware Department of Education, said that there are alternatives that have been suggested in other states, like high school students doing remote learning and middle school students going to the high school.

“If we’re going to be following this recommendation, if we were to have to, there would have to be other things that come along with it,” he said. “Some have suggested potentially half the kids remote learning, half the kids at school. Then you have to worry about your staff at the school — well, what are their kids doing for half the time? … There are a lot of dominoes that fall when you do some different things.”

Health and Wellness meets Tuesdays, the Academics and Equity working group meets Wednesdays and Operations and Services meets Thursdays. All meetings are scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. and can be streamed on DOE’s Youtube channel.

Public participation is encouraged, though it will be done virtually. Participants may submit public comments to an email address, reopeningideas@doe.k12.de.us, or by voicemail to 302-735-4244. The department will transcribe the comments and post them online, to the department’s website (www.doe.k12.de.us). The comments will be shared across the working groups.


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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