Why Now Is the Time for Schools to Re-Evaluate Safety Plans

Why Now Is the Time for Schools to Re-Evaluate Safety Plans

COVID-19 has challenged schools in a way that none of us have ever experienced before. In order to help tackle this challenge, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released a set of guidelines that schools should follow to safely reopen and operate this fall. As schools make plans to adhere to these guidelines they should think beyond the scope of just COVID-19 and keep their school’s overall safety plan front of mind. Many of the CDC’s guidelines can be met through the use of technology, and schools should be investing in and implementing technology solutions that not only helps them adhere to CDC guidelines this fall, but bolsters their overall school safety now and in the future.

One commonality that stands out most in the CDC’s guidelines is the need for two-way communication between staff, parents/caregivers, and students. For instance, the CDC states that schools should “Educate staff and families about when they/their child(ren) should stay home and when they can return to school,” and that “staff and families [should] self report to the school if they or their student have symptoms of COVID-19, a positive test for COVID-19, or were exposed to someone with COVID-19 within the last 14 days.”

One way to achieve this is with a communication portal. With a communication portal, schools can provide their staff, students, and parents/caregivers with personal logins to an online portal that contains important information and ways to streamline communication with one another. Emails, text messages, and phone calls are a common way many schools communicate with parents, but a portal allows school administrators to ensure their information is always up-to-date because it can be edited in real-time and it’s always available to the people that need it, so there’s no need to worry about a missed phone call or email. Not only is a communication portal going to be helpful for adhering to many of the CDC’s guidelines, but it will help communicate far beyond COVID-19.

A communication portal can also offer other functions such as video conferencing and e-learning. Both of these will be very important in maintaining social distancing and other guidelines, such as, “Offer options for students at higher risk of severe illness that limit their exposure risk (e.g., virtual learning opportunities)” and, “Pursue virtual group events, gatherings, or meetings, if possible…” Parents are going to be discouraged from entering the school as much as possible, so video conferencing is a great way that parents can continue to meet with teachers face to face. This is going to be important for conducting parent-teacher conferences and even conducting staff meetings. A communication portal with video conferencing also allows students the ability to access school work and learn from home if needed, which will be important in ensuring that no kid is left behind.

The CDC also recommends that “If feasible, conduct daily health checks (e.g., temperature screening and/or or symptom checking) of staff and students.” This can be a difficult task, especially for schools with higher populations, if done manually. Instead, with thermal imaging technology schools can monitor their students and staff for irregular temperatures throughout the entire day. This is far more effective in both saving time as well as spotting people who may potentially be sick. If a student comes into school and has their temperature checked just once, they can still develop a fever over the course of the hours-long school day. However, thermal imaging will monitor everyone throughout the entire day, so even if a student or staff member develops a fever or higher temperature later on, it can still be addressed.

Although thermal imaging is useful, it should be treated as part of a larger solution and not be implemented as a quick fix. Alone, thermal imaging will only create a log or record of when elevated temperatures are detected, but what’s actually important is acting quickly on that information to limit the possibility of spread. When thermal imaging technology is combined with an alerting platform, staff can immediately receive an alert when an elevated temperature is detected rather than digging through records after the fact. With this information in their hands, staff can isolate the individual and conduct further screening to determine whether it’s safe for that person to remain in the school. These alerts can be even more detailed if schools also implement facial recognition, which is often as simple as equipping their current camera system with additional software. With facial recognition, these alerts can tell staff which specific person has been detected with an elevated temperature to speed up the identification process even more.

The advantages of an alerting platform and facial recognition go far beyond the circumstances of COVID-19. An alerting platform can tie all of a school’s disparate systems together, such as the fire systems, door access control, environmental monitoring, etc., to create a more connected, holistic, and effective safety solution. And facial recognition can be used to enhance access control and monitor who should and should not be in the building. This can be useful in permitting access to approved groups of people, such as students and staff, while making it harder for intruders to enter the building and quickly spotting them if they do.

The CDC has also pushed the importance of proper hygiene and safety measures such as the need to “Discourage sharing of items that are difficult to clean or disinfect.” One of the first things that comes to mind is the use of physical hall passes. Instead schools should consider using an attendance and virtual pass application. This allows staff to mark a student as being “out of classroom” on the application. On the application, any other staff members can see that the student has permission to be in the halls and when the student returns to class their teacher can check them back in. Not only does this decrease the need for shared items, but it can help improve overall school safety now and going forward. For instance, if the school needed to evacuate or go into lockdown while students are out in the halls, they can join another classroom or staff member who can mark them as accounted for. This allows students to be easily found during emergency and high-stress situations.

Whether operating during COVID-19 or not, student and staff safety should always be a school’s top priority. This is why being aware of how the technology schools are implementing now will be useful not just to meet the CDC’s guidelines, but to expand and improve the schools’ overall safety infrastructure and protocol is imperative.

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