In this episode we discuss the measures being recommended by Health Canada to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the sphere of education and our schools. We also provide an overview of the measures being taken in all provinces and territories as of March 15 for listeners information. Part 2 of this series will take up the issue of the rights of teachers and education workers who have had their schools closed, in particular the most vulnerable daily occasional teachers and support staff.
School mitigation measures are implemented to reduce the unintended consequences of school closures or dismissal. The following strategies can be considered:
Strict exclusion policies for students exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19Increasing desk distance between students
Cancelling or postponing after-school events
Restricting access to common areas
Staggering the school schedule to limit the numbers of students/children in attendance at one time (e.g. staggered lunch breaks, recesses)
Reducing mixing students during transport to and from school (separation of children on school buses by 2 meters where possible)
dividing classes into smaller groups
cancelling classes that bring students together from multiple classrooms
Class dismissal is intended to serve the purpose of mitigating some of the unintended consequences resulting in school closures e.g. parents/caregivers who miss work to take care of children can have negative financial implications and students/children who access free school meals could be negatively impacted if those meals are not otherwise available.Footnote xi Additionally, keeping facilities open will allow teachers to consider delivering lessons and material remotely, maintaining continuity with teaching and learning.Footnote xii
School closure decisions should be made in consultation with local public health authorities and based on a risk assessment. Closure considerations should include:
The priority goal of minimizing social disruption and child safety
Epidemiology and transmissibility of the disease
Contact patterns in the school/childcare program
Amount of contact between individuals within the environment
Size of classrooms
Interaction of students between classes
The impact of certain programs (e.g., school meal programs) on families who access them.
Innate protective factors built into schools and childcare settings including:
A forum to educate, inform and communicate with students/ children and their families in an efficient and timely manner.
A defined structure to support the economic and social elements of the community by allowing parents to continue to work and volunteer.
Reactive school closures are in response to virus activity (i.e. a consequence of disease activity) impacting the safe functioning of the school due to increased staff absenteeism and co-infection potential among students. Considerations should include:
The number of ill students/children and staff.
The impact of school absenteeism and/or staff shortages on schools/childcare operations.
Proactive school closures may be considered to interrupt the transmission amongst children and indirectly protect other age groups who may be vulnerable to COVID-19. The decision about the school closure at local/regional/national level will largely depend on the timing and epidemiological situation. Considerations should include:
The timing of school/daycare closures in relation to the epidemic peak is an important consideration.
School closures of less than 2 weeks have been shown to have minimal impact on disruption of virus transmission in communities.
Holiday schedules should also be considered as opportunistic (i.e. early closures).