New guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education offers 34 pages of insight into decisions district officials will have to make as they prepare to open, or partially reopen, this fall.
Prior to opening schools, DESE recommends cleaning ventilation systems and upgrading filters if possible. The guidance prioritizes outdoor air ventilation either through HVAC system settings or opening doors and windows.
Additionally, DESE suggests preventing recirculation and continuing ventilation for longer hours, ideally never turning the systems off.
“From a facilities and operations perspective, it is important to determine the best approach for each school site given differences in ventilation capabilities,” officials wrote.
Schools are being urged to stagger recess times and transitions between classes to prevent crowding in hallways and other shared spaces. Suspending the use of lockers is given as an example of one way to prevent students from gathering in those areas.
The guidance also suggests ways to limit crowding in bathrooms and ways to improve hygiene in those spaces.
“Consider replacing hand dryers with disposable towels, as hand dryers increase the flow of air particles in the bathroom,” the guidance states.
For meals, the DESE guidance recommends eating in the classroom but says that if a cafeteria is used, schools should clearly mark where students can sit. DESE also recommends that outdoor seating “can be an effective way to ensure physical distancing, weather permitting.”
Food should be individually packaged instead of buffet style, the guidance states. DESE also said payment should also be handled in advance or through a non-contact system.
Diagrams included in the document demonstrate possible arrangements for cafeteria, lab and classroom seating.
“Physical distancing is a critical component in mitigating the transmission of the virus. Schools should aim for a physical distance of 6 feet when feasible; 3 feet is the minimum distance allowed. During meals, mask breaks, and other times when masks are not worn, 6 feet is the minimum distance allowed,” DESE officials wrote.
School officials are also encouraged to consider using outdoor spaces for classes and other activities.
For indoor spaces, schools are urged to consider using temporary walls or dividers to split larger areas into smaller classrooms and maintain separation between cohorts of students.
The DESE guidance says plexiglass barriers are not recommended for regular classrooms because they are additional surfaces that will need to be cleaned.
“However, barrier use is permitted if classroom furniture cannot be replaced and if required physical distancing cannot be achieved without the use of barriers, such as in shared table or laboratory settings where there is limited capacity and desks are often heavy or immovable,” the guidance states.
In classrooms spaces for younger children, DESE recommends removing all soft and cloth materials. Washable mats or plastic trays are recommended as a way to define easily cleanable spaces assigned to those students.
“Children can bring their own stuffed animal, but it cannot be shared,” the guidance states.
Cleaning is a theme repeated throughout numerous sections of the DESE guidance, with a focus on multiple cleanings per day for high-touch surfaces and recommendations of cleaning other surfaces at least daily.
Schools are instructed to use EPA-approved disinfectants.
DESE recommends making space for students to take at least two mask breaks per day. During those times, officials said students would ideally be outdoors at those times and must have space to remain at least 6 feet apart.
Another new space recommended in the document is a medical waiting room, separate from the nurse’s office, to be used when a student presents COVID-19 symptoms and needs to be separated from others.