ABC7 Solutions: Plans to help keep students safe as they return to school during pandemic

Communication is key between parents, students, staff as protocols evolve, change in dealing with the return to classrooms amid COVID-19.
LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- It is music to the ears of every parent... getting kids back to school. But how do you keep them safe?

Based on data from the World Health Organization, there are reasons to believe that can be safely done. Though data is limited because many countries closed schools, research shows student to student transmission is rare... in fact its staff-to-staff transmission that's most common.

"The children in school seem to be doing better when it comes to the level of infection than whatever's going on in the community," said Dr. Anthony Fauci.

A World Health Organization report suggests governments at all levels prioritize education by investing in multi-layered protection. That's in line with Governor Gavin Newsom's announcement last week of roughly 450-700 dollars per student in extra funding for school districts if they agreed to certain guidelines which should be announced this week.

The WHO guidelines might provide an idea of what schools will look like this spring. Physical distancing will be at the forefront. For individuals and groups... districts are advised to consider alternative learning styles and staggered class start and end times. High schools for instance will likely adjust by having classes in the morning, afternoon and evening to avoid mixing groups.

Dr. Steven Gray plans to open Pasadena Christian School on January 11th for TK-2 and like many, his school will use "pods" of about 9 to 12 students who never interact with another pod.

"What we do is we make sure that if there is an infection in that particular pod, we can shut it down very quickly without having to shut down the rest of the school and the rest of the campus. We can return those children to online learning," said Dr. Gray.

Look for schools to focus on identifying at risk teachers and students and enforce the policy of staying home if not well. Creating a checklist to help families decide whether they can go to school is also suggested and schools will likely waive the need for a doctor's note to excuse absences.

Communication with parents, students and staff will be paramount given the ever changing protocols and environment created by COVID-19. Dr. Gray has created a task force that only deals with coronavirus related issues, but adds... as suggested by World Health Organization, the local health department will help with a risk-based approach for the operation of school.

"We had to identify that voice that would help inform our decisions... we decided, who better than the health department? So we'll go with that for now. That could all change in a month, but that's the protocol we're gonna be moving the head with," said Dr. Gray.

While the COVID-19 vaccine will soon be widely available, Dr. Gray sees a critical role for the flu vaccine now.

"We want as many of our parents, our teachers and our students to have the flu shots because we don't want their symptoms to be confused with COVID, because then you go and test unnecessarily," said Dr. Gray.

The WHO points out ALL decisions have implications for children, but done safely, reopening schools can help reduce the negative impact closures have on child health, development and the overall economy.
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