Volume 19 Digital Issue

Preparing for the Safe Resumption of In-Person Classes

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Now that COVID-19 quarantine restrictions have loosened and infection rates in the country have curbed, more schools are expected to resume in-person classes in the coming school year.

 

Based on UNICEF and UNESCO’s 2020 report, global data have shown that “schools are not the main drivers of COVID-19 transmission.” Furthermore, there were no reported outbreaks of virus transmission when the Philippine government implemented the pilot in-person classes in mid-2021. Because of this, private and government educational institutions across the country started ramping up their preparations to meet the standards of conducting in-person classes.

As we transition to the new normal, school administrators need to take on the critical role of ensuring that learners, teachers, and school personnel can go back to in-person school activities that don't expose them to COVID-19 infection.

Schools are empowered to care for their stakeholders.

 

Philippine health expert and public health consultant Dr. Venus Oliva Cloma-Rosales shares two important insights and considerations for the safe resumption of in-person classes.

1. Assessment of school facilities and COVID-19 action plan

 

Crucial to crafting an action plan for reopening in-person classes is implementing stringent measures that prioritize the health and safety of the learners and the teaching and non-teaching personnel. Here are some guide questions to consider:

  • Is it possible to implement physical distancing in the classrooms and offices?

  • Are the classrooms and offices well-ventilated? Do they have windows and doors that allow the flow of fresh air? 

  • Can the school clinic accommodate COVID-19 suspects and non-COVID-related concerns?

 

Dr. Cloma-Rosales advises school owners and administrators to do the following:

 

  1. Invest in a school clinic and its staff (nurses, assistants, and doctors, depending on how big your school is).

  2. Make sure that medical supplies and equipment are adequate. 

  3. If possible, make teleconsultations available for students and staff.

 

She also says that based on the public health principle of Hierarchy of Controls, engineering controls such as ventilation are superior to using personal protective equipment or PPE.

Manila students following health protocols on campus as photographed by Ted Aljibe (Agence France-Presse) for The Philippine Star

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Preparing for the Safe Resumption of In-Person Classes
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2. Creation of an outbreak preparedness program

 

The virus still exists and another outbreak is possible. Hence, it is essential that schools craft an outbreak preparedness plan that considers the possibility of going back to distance learning in case lockdowns become necessary. Aside from this, training and counseling are helpful tools for parents, learners, and teachers should there be a need to shift back to online classes in case of outbreaks. 

 

In case of an outbreak, Dr. Cloma-Rosales shared, “Your number one responsibility is to enforce health protocols. First, you have to isolate the case or cases. You must have a school clinic that will assess the child or the employee properly. You must document your findings and endorse back to the family and the LGU, depending on the data of your cases.”

 

“You must be able to perform internal contact tracing because it is the school that knows who the seatmates are, the busmates are, where the child is likely to have gone around,” she adds. “You must have your own system of documenting and contact-tracing.”

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The control of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases is an opportunity for us to build a culture of safety and not merely compliance.

—DR. VENUS CLOMA-ROSALES

Safe reopening of schools is a shared responsibility.

 

Keeping a safe and healthy environment for the learners, teachers, and school staff is a shared responsibility among stakeholders. Schools should collaborate with their local government unit in implementing health protocols inside and outside the school. Parents and teachers should work together to create an environment that is conducive for learning while being protected from the virus.

 

The resumption of in-person classes in the middle of the pandemic still has uncertainties. But if schools provide the learners adequate protection and implement effective and efficient action plans, parents will gain more confidence in sending their children back to the classrooms. 

 

According to Dr. Cloma-Rosales, “the control of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases is an opportunity for us to build a culture of safety and not merely compliance.”

 

There is more to learn as schools open their gates once more. But one thing is certain, educators and learners will move forward and continue to adjust to the new normal in education, whatever it takes.   Q