Need to Know: What Should Schools Do To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 and Other Respiratory Illnesses?

Seasoned ELA teacher Rebecca Paulson (not her real name) works in a co-located high school campus and posted this list of “tips” from the National Education Associate (NEA) and her own commentary on top. We all want to know, Where is the AFT’s statement? How out of touch is the union leadership from the struggles of the rank-and-file and our students? Lydia Howrilka, UFT Solidarity Member Support

Not their fault, but this is a joke: HOW are we supposed to do this when:
(1) THERE IS NO SANITIZER
(2) In old shared buildings, schools do not have enough bathrooms. My school, for example, has ONE student bathroom, which we designate for boys, and shares the other, designated for girls, (and yes, this violates NYC law which says that any student may use any bathroom in accordance with their gender identity or comfort) with the cafeteria, so every single girl in the enormous building. There simply are not enough sinks for everyone to wash their hands regularly.
(3) Kids say that bathrooms never have soap or paper towels
(4) Classrooms are rarely even swept clean, so unless the city is authorizing doubling the custodial staff and hours, sanitizing won’t happen. There simply aren’t enough people or hours.
(5) Teachers can’t afford or even find enough cleaning products for classrooms
(6) Teacher bathrooms are on the other side of a city block and there IS NO TIME to go wash our hands (much less actually use the bathroom)
(7) There are no tissues, unless we bring them, and most of us can’t afford to supply tissues to the 150 or so students who pass through our rooms every day
(8) There are no subs. We cover each other’s classes. We all try desperately not to call out sick and if we do, there aren’t enough teachers.
(9) Schools, at least in large parts of NYC, have no money for needed supplies as is, much less the thousands of dollars to pay for cleaning supplies, sanitizer, etc., if it can even be found.

I’m not an alarmist and I don’t fear getting sick, much, though I am terrified for my 94 year old father with COPD–with whom I live, so quarantine is out– but any basic analysis shows how unrealistic these plans are.

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Schools should review and continue to implement comprehensive cleaning and infection control plans (ICP). ICPs present a clear protocol for routine cleaning, sanitizing, and targeted disinfecting, including steps to take in the event of an infectious disease outbreak. Custodial and maintenance staff should receive ongoing training on ICP protocols, products, and procedures; usage of personal protective equipment; and hazard communications. ICPs should include:

Best practices and procedures that protect the health of product users and other building occupants. This includes the use of products that do not contain ingredients that are known to contribute to asthma, respiratory irritation, or other health conditions and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered disinfectants or sanitizers.

Procedures for areas considered high-risk (e.g., bathrooms, athletic areas, cafeteria/kitchen, health room/nurse’s office) and high-touch points (e.g., door handles, hand railings, lockers, SHARED DESKS (emphasis added) and keyboards) that may require sanitizing and targeted disinfecting in addition to routine cleaning.


Follow CDC’s recommended steps to properly and safely plan, prepare, and respond to COVID-19, here: CDC Interim Guidance for Childcare Programs and K-12 Schools


Ensure that school nurses and other health professionals are equipped with the appropriate personal protective equipment, training, and protocols for preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Encourage staff and students to stay home and see a healthcare provider if sick. Staff medical leave should not result in disciplinary action. Schools should also work with the school nurse or designee to develop a plan to identify and isolate students and staff who arrive at school sick.

Remind staff and students about good hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, and other important health and safety practices. Students and staff should:

Wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available. Note: Schools should provide the time and supplies for students and staff to wash their hands when needed.
Cover their cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
Avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth.
Work with state and local health and emergency response agencies to develop a joint public health preparedness and response plan in the event of an outbreak.

Source: “Schools and Coronavirus: What You Need to Know.” NEA, www.nea.org/home/75915.htm.

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