Does the prospect of your child returning to a physical classroom during the coronavirus pandemic fill you with dread? If so, to keep your child safe, what reassurances should you look for to assure the school is doing the best possible job to disinfect the school and your child’s classroom?
The National Education Association (NEA) states that “any reopening model has to not only ensure the health and safety of students and staff, but also prioritize long-term strategies on student learning and educational equity.”
On the issue of health and safety, here’s what the Centers for Disease Control (CD), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the non-profit Women’s Voices for the Earth recommend:
Make Sure Your School Has a Plan.
Reducing risk of exposure to the coronavirus requires careful planning that both meets minimum levels for safety and health and is specific to your child’s school. Schools should not take a “cookie cutter” approach to disinfection since the size of schools and number of students per classroom differs from district to district. Instead, administrators need to consider how their own school is configured, how many students can be allowed per classroom to ensure social distancing, how students get to school and the classroom, how the classroom itself is arranged, how bathroom breaks will be managed, whether children and teachers need to wear masks all day, and how easy it is for students and teachers to wash their hands and sanitize their desks and supplies often.
Some schools might decide they can only accommodate a third or a quarter of the normal class size at a time. Some schools may opt for only one day of in-classroom instruction, with the rest happening online. Most school districts will probably get in touch with parents as soon as they figure out their approach, but you can also reach out to them to make your concerns known. Send them this link to the CDC’s “Reopening Guidance” to ensure they’re establishing proper procedures.
Beware of the Cleaning Chemicals Schools Plan to Use.
The CDC recommends schools use EPA-approved disinfectants that work against COVID-19. “Frequent disinfection of surfaces and objects touched by multiple people is important,” they say.
However, many of the products EPA recommends contain quaternary ammonium, or “quats,” and sodium hypochlorite, more popularly known as chlorine bleach. Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE) warns that “both are extremely potent chemicals, and both can pose health hazards.” Those hazards range from rashes and dermatitis to lung and eye irritation and breathing problems. Cleaning workers exposed regularly to quats have developed occupational asthma. Quats have been linked to reproductive harm and birth defects.
WVE recommends choosing disinfectants with active ingredients like alcohol, ethanol, isopropanol, hydrogen peroxide, and lactic or citric acid. This info graphic is very helpful for explaining disinfectants that are safer to use.
If your school insists on using bleach, the CDC recommends a mixture of 1/3 cup of bleach added to 1 gallon of water. Bleach solutions will be effective for disinfection for up to 24 hours. Make safe use a priority by keeping windows open during and after cleaning and locking the product up and out of a child’s reach. Among cleaning products, chlorine bleach is among the leading causes of chemical eye injuries in children in the U.S.
The CDC also says a 70% alcohol solution will effectively kill coronavirus and other germs. Regardless of what your school uses, make sure it adheres to EPA’s “6 Steps for Safe & Effective Disinfectant Use.”
IMPORTANT: All cleaning products should be clearly labeled as such and stored far out of the reach of students. Rooms need to be well-ventilated so that the volatile compounds in the disinfectants don’t build up in the rooms over time.
Help Your Child Stay Safe
Start with school transportation. If you decide to send your children to school, how will they get there? Many schools are grappling with how to manage bus transportation to avoid crowding and ensure that kids don’t contaminate each other or the bus driver. Many parents are already planning to transport their own kids. Students who are close enough to walk or bicycle will probably do so. If kids do ride the bus, make sure they wear masks and keep them on in transit.
You may want to send your children to school with their own hand sanitizer. Here’s our DIY hand sanitizer recipe.
For more on reopening schools, this resource from the Coalition of Healthy Schools is useful.
For more help, download a copy of the WVE guide, How to Talk To Your Child’s School About Safer Disinfectants. It includes sample emails to send to school administrators and guidelines for using disinfectants safely and effectively.