Education entities are working double time to put together a plan of action that accounts for as many scenarios as possible without compromising an engaging and safe learning environment.
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) Public Health Planning Guidance outlines four sets of best practices for the reopening and continued operation of public schools for the 2020–2021 school year. They include:
- Providing notice (requirements for parental and public notices)
- Prevention (required practices to prevent the virus from entering buildings)
- Response (required practices to respond to a lab-confirmed case in a building)
- Mitigation (recommended and required practices to reduce spread)
What is required?
The practices are a mixture of requirements and recommendations aimed at minimizing the likelihood of viral spread. Some notable mandates include:
- Providing parents notice of their public education enrollment and attendance rights and responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic using a document published by TEA
- Posting for parents and the general public, one week prior to the start of on-campus activities and instruction, a summary of the plan they will follow to mitigate COVID-19 spread in their schools based on the requirements and recommendations outlined in the TEA guidance
- Self-screening of staff for COVID-19 symptoms before coming into buildings each day
- Ensuring parents do not send a child to school if the child has COVID-19 symptoms or is lab-confirmed with COVID-19
- Screening visitors to determine if they have COVID-19 symptoms or are lab-confirmed with COVID-19 before they are allowed into buildings
- Notifying the local health department if an individual who has been in a school is lab-confirmed to have COVID-19
- Closing off areas heavily used by the individual with a lab-confirmed case
- Notifying all teachers, staff, and families of all students in a school if a lab-confirmed COVID-19 case is identified among students, teachers, or staff who participate in any on campus activities
- Complying with the governor’s executive order regarding the wearing of masks
- Providing instruction to students on appropriate hygiene practices and other mitigation practices adopted in the local school system on the first day a student attends school
It is worth noting that neither the summary document (second bullet above), nor any reopening plans, are subject to approval by a governmental entity. Also, when asking individuals if they have symptoms for COVID-19, school systems can only require individuals to provide “Yes” or “No” responses, as opposed to asking for specific symptom confirmation. School systems may not collect information during the health screening process other than whether the individual is symptomatic.
Once it is determined that any individuals who responded “Yes” have met the criteria for re-entry, school systems must destroy those individuals’ responses. Each entity is responsible for determining how screenings will be conducted (e.g., use existing online systems, mobile applications, or paper screening). More information on screening is available in the HRX article Screening Staff, Students, and Visitors for COVID-19.
The guidance recommends that staff be trained specifically on the protocols outlined in the document and the practices adopted locally. As education entities prepare for the coming school year, they will likely pursue additional training opportunities. While not developed with TEA’s exact guidance in mind, the agency recommends a free online course on Special Considerations for Infection Control During COVID-19 being offered through the Texas A&M Agri-Life Extension. The two-hour course provides a basic overview and understanding of infection control measures that can be taken in childcare settings to prevent the spread of the virus.
To comply with TEA’s requirements and any locally developed protocols, it is recommended that education entities create a custom COVID-19 safety procedures document that is provided separately from the employee handbook. Like the handbook, an acknowledgement form is recommended to enforce the new protocols and expectations. TASB HR Services has produced a customizable sample acknowledgement form that can be accessed from the HR Library Epidemic Response page.
Keith McLemore is a compensation and HR consultant at TASB HR Services. Send Keith an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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