A Checklist for Starting Face to Face Classes

A Checklist for Starting Face to Face Classes

college lassroom

Human decision-making is complex. On our own, our tendency to yield to short-term temptations, and even to addictions, may be too strong for our rational, long-term planning. ~ Peter Singer

So for a lot of us in higher education we are in the planning processes for the fall semester.  For many of us that start is only a month a way.  Various districts have different planning processes.  Most inevitably have a committee, we always have a committee, that makes the final recommendation to a chancellor, board or superintendent.  What I hope to offer in this post is a fairly comprehensive list of the considerations that have to be thought through before being able to offer face to face instruction as safely and effectively as possible. In the comments section any additional considerations would be appreciated as we are all dealing with the same issues.

The final decision will of course always rest with the institution but that decision has to exist within the state, county and local health regulations, as such, institutions should be in close contact with the appropriate health agencies and have someone designated to regularly monitor regulations.  Given the changing nature of the pandemic, these regulations have/will change with the changes related to the larger considerations of the pandemic.

Campus, building, and classroom access

The starting point for most institutions will be campus access.  For a lot of institutions, particularly those that are located within urban centers there is no effective way to control campus access.  So for some institutions access will have to addressed at each campus building.  For more suburban or rural campuses where the majority of people access campus by driving, campus ingress and egress can be funneled through single or limited multiple entrance points.  No matter how many access points there are, the purpose of control is to know who is on campus and where they will be going.  This helps initially in letting the custodial teams know what areas need additional cleaning.  It’s also important if/when you have a positive COVID report in that it will help the institution establish potential people for health officials to interview in the contact tracing process.

Transportation is also a big issue when you are opening campus.  Particularly for institutions with large numbers of low income students and urban campuses, many students come to campus via the utilization of public transportation.  Bus routes that intersect campus will need to be re-thought.  Drop off points will have to allow for campus access tracking, similar things will need to be implemented for students who are using ride sharing services or being dropped off by family members.

One of the early steps in making determinations of the viability of in person instruction is setting safe occupancy maximums for classrooms, labs, common spaces, restrooms, stairways and even bathrooms.  The standard social distance being generally recommended is for six feet between each person in the classroom.  This includes the instructor and also space needed for a sufficient egress corridor into and out of the room.  This will typically result in a 25-50% reduction in the number of students who can be in the classroom at one time.  Additional considerations that have to be factored in, include are there multiple exits so that a one-way entrance and exit pathway can be established.  What is the quality of ventilation, do the windows open in the classroom?  An additional thing to consider is that the HVAC system for any building/classroom has been properly maintained and also that any air filters are of good quality and replaced in accordance with manufacturers recommendations.

Behavioral interventions are also going to be part of the plan for classrooms.  Students will have to be instructed to social distance, to remember not to share equipment and materials without disinfecting the equipment first.  Additionally, protocols for when students might need to be within six feet need to be developed.  These could include additional Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), for example, while masks would be required at all times, when students are closer than six feet for more than a minute or two, you could require them to additionally wear face shields.

Finally, because of the occupancy reductions that you’ll be facing, scheduling changes are inevitable.  At many secondary schools the discussion is around alternating the days or times of instruction, mixed with online instruction.  For colleges, the reduction in occupancy means a reduction in cap size for classes, unless you can move instruction into large sized classrooms.  For example, if you normally had a lecture with 40 students, in order to maintain that class size you’ll likely need to be in a large open space, outside or in a room that previously held 70+ students and those classrooms are in short supply on most campuses, especially for community colleges.

If the resources are available, and for the appropriate classroom set up, for example computer stations, it may be possible to create isolated workstations utilizing plexiglass dividers.

covid class dividers

One option that we have employed in limited instances at my institution has been to create subsections and paralleling the secondary model.  So instead of a lab with 40 students we have reduced it into two sections of 20 students each.  This of course meant creating a second section and hiring an additional part-time faculty member and technician for the class.  This is an expensive work around that if you’re being financially responsible, can only be done for a low number of sections before it becomes cost prohibitive.

Alternate Classroom Options

There have been a lot of suggestions flying around about alternate classroom options.  The primary suggestions have been to utilize cafeterias, gymnasiums and other large open spaces.  While this absolutely solves the social distancing issue, in that you can easily get 40 students in a large space like a gym with good social distancing.  It does bring up some additional issues in terms of teaching operations.  These large open spaces often aren’t set up for instruction, so they don’t have whiteboards, projection equipment or internet connectivity.  These spaces will often need furniture and technology solutions in order to make them work.

There have also been a lot of suggestions about outdoor instruction.  As someone who grew up in the Northeast, in Upstate New York, I know that this would not be a solution between November and April for a lot of areas.  And conversely, for desert areas in the Southwest, heat would be an issue in other parts of the year.  Unless your district is able to erect walled tent structures with power, heating, cooling and technology, outdoors seems like a pretty limited solution.

Cleaning

It is not surprising that cleaning will need to be increased due to the coronavirus pandemic.  Institutions have already likely instituted higher cleaning requirements as a result of this reality.  The CDC has issued cleaning recommendations for facilities and the EPA has produced lists of cleaning products to be used.  As students return to campus, cleaning will have to increase both after classes have completed as well as during and between classes.  It is suggested that faculty be given the responsibility to instruct students to wipe down their work and seating areas at the beginning and end of class.  This of course means that the appropriate cleaning materials, wipes or cleaning solution and paper towels need to be available within the classroom.  If staffing is available, as with hands on program areas that employ technicians, you could schedule the technicians to also come through and wipe down rooms before, between and after classes are in session.  Many custodial departments will not take on the responsibility for cleaning high tech equipment.  So each area will need to develop a plan for how to safely clean this equipment and who will take on that responsibility.  An example is DELL’s guidance on cleaning DELL products, but the information should be helpful for other brands as well.  For non-computer equipment it is always highly recommended to look up cleaning information on the product website or to contact the manufacturer for this information.

Equipment and material sharing policies should be established so that students don’t spread the virus in the process of sharing materials.  It should go without saying, that whenever possible, students should not share materials.  If at all possible, students should have their own personal set of tools or materials that would not need to be shared.

From the CDC

  • Shared Objects
    • Discourage sharing of items that are difficult to clean or disinfect.
    • Keep each child’s belongings separated from others’ and in individually labeled containers, cubbies, or areas.
    • Ensure adequate supplies to minimize sharing of high touch materials to the extent possible (e.g., assigning each student their own art supplies, equipment) or limit use of supplies and equipment by one group of children at a time and clean and disinfect between use.
    • Avoid sharing electronic devices, toys, books, and other games or learning aids.

Signs and reminders

Your facilities and maintenance teams will likely take the lead on campus signage.  For those of us who are already doing face to face instruction, I can personally tell you the amount of signage is nearly overwhelming.  Much of this is driven by state and county signage requirements, so be sure to consult with your relevant agencies.  We have signage about symptoms, reporting, hand washing, cleaning, where to stand, which stairways to utilize and occupancy signs for every classroom, lab, communal area and workspace.  In the process of determining signage and occupancy limits I promise you will discover spaces you never thought or knew about before and you will learn about behavioral quirks you never thought about previously.  Part of the impacts of this process are often the limitation on shared spaces or items.  For example, sharing microwaves or refrigerators is likely to banned from shared usage and will likely be the issue you hear the most about from employees.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

The utilization of PPE on campuses is not a new thing.  Anyone who has taught, worked in, supervised or taken a hands on class in Career Education, STEM or the arts has likely utilized some form of PPE in observance of OSHA standards.  These most typically in the past have been goggles for eye protection and closed toe shoes.  However to this list now, we can add masks, gloves, face shields and even disposable smocks.  Masks are going to be an absolute requirement during the COVID pandemic, below is what the CDC has to say about masks and in particular cloth face coverings.

  • Cloth Face Coverings
    • Teach and reinforce use of cloth face coverings. Face coverings may be challenging for students (especially younger students) to wear in all-day settings such as school. Face coverings should be worn by staff and students (particularly older students) as feasible, and are most essential in times when physical distancing is difficult. Individuals should be frequently reminded not to touch the face covering and to wash their hands frequently. Information should be provided to staff, students, and students’ families on proper use, removal, and washing of cloth face coverings.
      • Note: Cloth face coverings should not be placed on:
        • Children younger than 2 years old
        • Anyone who has trouble breathing or is unconscious
        • Anyone who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the cloth face covering without assistance
    • Cloth face coverings are meant to protect other people in case the wearer is unknowingly infected but does not have symptoms. Cloth face coverings are not surgical masks, respirators, or other medical personal protective equipment.

Higher level N95 rated masks are not likely warranted, but that is a call that will need to be made by individual institutions and even within departments at each institution.  Health occupation training may be a place where this is appropriate and/or required, particularly if students are still working with patients in a health care setting.

As mentioned earlier, if students will, for pedagogical reasons, need to be closer than standard six foot distancing for longer than a couple of minutes at a time, then the use of face shields in addition to masks would be warranted to provide appropriate protection.

Gloves and hand sanitizing stations may also be employed, however proper hand washing is the primary recommendation.  For hand washing and glove use, students should be trained in appropriate techniques.  Hand sanitizing stations are a good idea as they provide an additional level of sanitization for students but also provide a psychological feeling of safety.

The largest issue in employing the use of appropriate PPE at this time is likely to be purchasing these materials in a timely fashion.  Shipping and delivery times can be on the order of several weeks to over a month.  Also, there are a lot of vendors who have taken advantage of the shortage of supplies by offering substandard products.  So take care when working with new vendors.  Additionally, some schools have been working together in order to increase their buying power by being able to place larger orders which have the advantage of reducing prices and delivery times by increasing priority for the order.

Scheduling to reduce density

A complicated consideration is thinking about multiple classes across the campus.  While managers often focus on their own areas, in terms of students passing in building hallways and other common areas, there also needs to be a consideration in regards to class start times.  Campus entry points quickly become choke points on campus and so large number of classes starting at the same time can cause significant delays to campus entry.  It is important that managers, or higher level coordinators, analyze the campus schedules to alleviate this issue.  Similar scheduling considerations should be used in terms of what buildings, or even floors are being used at one time, and to what parking lots students should be instructed to park in for particular classes to alleviate opportunities for students to congregate and break social distancing recommendations.

Pre-instruction class meetings and health questionnaires are also helpful in encouraging the appropriate behavior amongst students.  A good rule of thumb is to have an online (Zoom or other platform) meeting with the class prior to the first day of class.  This meeting should review all of the relevant safety procedures and PPE required for the students to be aware of.  Additionally, health questionnaires should be distributed to students before the first class meeting, these forms should include the conditions under which people shouldn’t come to campus and the symptoms of COVID.

Reporting and illness rules (from the CDC)

  • Isolate and Transport Those Who are Sick
    • Make sure that staff and families know that they (staff) or their children (families) should not come to school, and that they should notify school officials (e.g., the designated COVID-19 point of contact) if they (staff) or their child (families) become sick with COVID-19 symptoms, test positive for COVID-19, or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 symptoms or a confirmed or suspected case.
    • Immediately separate staff and children with COVID-19 symptoms (such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath) at school. Individuals who are sick should go home or to a healthcare facility depending on how severe their symptoms are, and follow CDC guidance for caring for oneself and others who are sick.
    • Work with school administrators, nurses, and other healthcare providers to identify an isolation room or area to separate anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms or tests positive but does not have symptoms. School nurses and other healthcare providers should use Standard and Transmission-Based Precautions when caring for sick people. See: What Healthcare Personnel Should Know About Caring for Patients with Confirmed or Possible COVID-19 Infection.
    • Establish procedures for safely transporting anyone who is sick to their home or to a healthcare facility. If you are calling an ambulance or bringing someone to the hospital, try to call first to alert them that the person may have COVID-19.

Public communication

For any institution communication plans are always an important and often times overlooked piece of any issue.  It’s particularly important when re-opening during COVID times that your communication plan is detailed and complete.  It is important of course, that your faculty, staff and students are well informed of campus actions.  Most districts have taken to creating specific COVID information pages on their website where all of the announcements and information are contained.  As more time sensitive issues occur districts often use their emergency notification text systems as an additional way to pass on information.  In addition to the campus community, it is also important to make sure that the broader local community is also made aware of the status of campus and whether or not classes are operating and if the campus is open.

The biggest recommendation I can make is that all communication be simple, honest, timely and as comprehensive as possible.  Clear contact information should be provided to route comments and questions through a central communication source like the public information officer.  All communication around COVID and campus reopening should follow the basics of crisis communication.

Infectious disease response and reporting plan

All districts and colleges should have an infectious disease response and reporting plan as well as an emergency operations manual and response plan.  I’m including a link to Pikes Peak Community College’s Infectious disease plan.  I’m also including a link to the San Mateo Community College Districts Emergency Operations plan.  These plans should be updated regularly, have clear reporting and review structures and be clearly communicate to the campus community.  In COVID times, it is important that plans be in place for what actions should occur should in the case of a positive test result and/or infected person being found on campus.  Often there will be county health regulations that will control how this situation should be handled. I’m linking to a 7 step guide for employers who have infected employees.  There are also new OSHA record keeping regulations for when you find an employee has COVID.

Institutions may decide to initiate a testing procedure and there are a number of ways in which that procedure could be implemented.  Considerations have to be given to the cost of testing, how often and who to test, etc… The CDC has created a page of recommendations related to COVID testing for colleges.

All district should have in place a reporting structure for who and how to notify officials of any reported positive cases.  It is important to remember that this is medical information and as such is protected by HIPAA regulations.

From the CDC on notifications:

A reminder, should an employee become ill, you will need backup staffing plans.  This also becomes important during any re-opening after a closure as employees who have underlying health conditions may not feel safe returning to their on campus positions. Your human resources department will need to have clear policies about how and which leaves may be used in this circumstance.

It is important to educate faculty, staff and students about when they should stay home and when they can return to school.

From the CDC

  • Actively encourage employees and students who are sick or who have recently had close contact with a person with COVID-19 to stay home. Develop policies that encourage sick employees and students to stay at home without fear of reprisal, and ensure employees, students, and students’ families are aware of these policies. Consider not having perfect attendance awards, not assessing schools based on absenteeism, and offering virtual learning and telework options, if feasible.
  • Staff and students should stay home if they have tested positive for or are showing COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Staff and students who have recently had close contact with a person with COVID-19 should also stay home and monitor their health.

Opening a campus during COVID times, regardless of whether it’s only for hard to online transition course areas, or for full instruction takes a lot of careful planning and personnel hours.  Be aware that the staff you depend on to create, implement and enforce these regulations are going to be working a lot of extra hours.  Consideration needs to be given to taking care of these employees as well, so that they’re well-being doesn’t suffer significantly during this process.

Good luck with your transition, it takes a lot of effort to open a campus safely and effectively.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

CDC Interim Guidance for Higher Education

CDC considerations for schools

CDC communications resources

CDC FAQs

OSHA guidance on preparing workplaces

MN state health recommendations for school

Special considerations for infection control during COVID-19

Texas Education Agency Public Health Planning Guidance 20-21 academic year

Very detailed, Sample COVID-19 Health Screening Form

Sample COVID-19 Health Screening Form

 

Published by Michael Kane

Michael Kane is a writer, photographer, educator, speaker, adventurer and a general sampler of life. His books on hiking and poetry are available in soft cover and Kindle on Amazon.

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