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Revisiting COVID Safety in Schools: Paths to Safe Learning

Many known COVID-19 prevention strategies [1] are easy enough for schools to put in place, such as improving classroom indoor air quality [2] using filtration and ventilation, creating alternative eating arrangements, using adaptive attendance policies [3] with missed work plans [4], and supporting mask-wearing [5]. Studies [6] show schools with masking and/or ventilation/purification strategies have significantly less COVID transmission.

What is often difficult is getting these procedures put in place in your school. You can start by reaching out to your child’s teacher and/or office staff to request putting a portable HEPA Purifier and/or its inexpensive DIY option, the Corsi-Rosenthal Box [7], into your child’s classroom(s) to achieve 6-12 air changes per hour [8].

If not successful, requesting a Section 504 Plan in an email or letter to the school’s principal is a great way to formalize the discussions. The WHN’s School Safety Team has created a Guide to Section 504: Accommodation Plan [9]. If a parent believes particular COVID-19 prevention strategies are necessary for FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) for the student, a 504 team must convene to discuss such measures and make a determination on a case-by-case basis.

Different households may hold varying risks, and need varying accommodations based on their situation. Peer masking is a reasonable accommodation in many circumstances. A recent lawsuit in Virginia determined that a school cannot require a student with disabilities to be segregated or excluded solely based on their needs for peer masking. In other states, parents can bring this settlement [10] to the attention of their school districts, as the same reasoning may be used for other students and households.

If a satisfactory outcome cannot be reached in negotiations with the school, there are also increasing opportunities for learning outside the traditional brick-and-mortar schools, including public virtual education [11], COVID-cautious private schools and education programs [12], homeschooling, as well as supplementary social and academic virtual options [13].

Regardless of your choice, there are a variety of resources out there to support you and your child(ren) in staying safe. With recent headlines spotlighting* [14] the growing research [15] on long-term effects of COVID in children, including previously healthy children, the topics of masking, air quality, and school safety should be at the top of your households’ list**.

* A large November 2022 study [16] from Germany shows that kids and adolescents are at the same relative risk of experiencing long COVID-19 symptoms 90 days or more after acute infection as adults are. Studies [17] show long COVID in children can be serious, chronic, and long-term.
**Inadequate masking and shielding won’t cut it. Studies that focus on proper shielding and masking do show they provide significant benefits and reduce COVID-19 risks [18][19].

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[1] Schools – WHN Guidelines.
[2] CDC. Community, Work, and School.
[3] Reasonable Make-up and extensions for Disability Related Absences | Disability Resource Office.
[4] 5 Apps to Enhance Distance Learning: These (mostly free) applications allow teachers to create virtual classrooms, record lessons, and collect student work.
[5] Study showing masking and social distancing are effective in reducing COVID-19.
[6] Study: Mask Use and Ventilation Improvements to Reduce COVID-19 Incidence in Elementary Schools.
[7] How to Build a Corsi-Rosenthal Box.
[8] IACA Ventilation and HEPA Filtration: Quick Facts with Citations.
[9] WHN’s Guide to Section 504: Accommodation Plan.
[10] Seaman v. Virginia — Federal Court Issues Preliminary Injunction against Virginia in School Mask Mandate Case.
[11] Free Online Virtual Schools.
[12] COVID Safe(r) Schools/Co-ops.
[13] Outschool Supplementary Online Education.
[14] “Long Covid can be debilitating, even for healthy kids”. CNN. Published January 14, 2023.
[15] Impact on children. Long Covid Learning.
[16] Study: Post-COVID-19-associated morbidity in children, adolescents, and adults. (2022)
[17] Studies (CDC): Post–COVID-19 Symptoms and Conditions Among Children and Adolescents — United States, March 1, 2020–January 31, 2022.
[18] Model-based Analysis of Proper Shielding.
[19] Report: Face masks effectively limit the probability of SARS-CoV-2 transmission. ols: Paths to Safe Learning

Last reviewed on April 3, 2023

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