Guest Article: Back to School

16 Jun 2020

The Coronavirus has caused an extensive burden on schools in educating and providing related services to students remotely. Students who do not have access to technology, due to financial limitations, or the academic support needed from teachers or aides have been suffering. Teachers who have trained for in-person classroom settings are disoriented with the switch to remote, online learning. Regardless, we are pushing through and staying determined to continue our mission of providing high-level education to the students we are entrusted with.

The Hallen School, a school-age special education school in New Rochelle, has been exhaustively working on changing its policies for the “new normal” in order to continue our traditional in-person education once we get approval to return to a face-to-face learning model. Our primary concern is protecting our students and staff. We are hopeful that implementing the following protocols will be effective. 99% of our student population is from NYC and the surrounding boroughs. Our plan is to implement temperature checks at the students’ bus stops. This will not only make the arrival of students into our building less complicated and safer but will also protect the bus driver and the other students on the bus. In terms of temperature checks for staff, every staff member will be required to get a temperature check before entering the building.

Even though every person entering the building has gone through a temperature check, masks will still be required for all those on the bus and in the building. As we know, many individuals are asymptomatic carriers and we want to be thorough in our procedures for the safety of everyone involved. In addition, a separate and secluded area in our building has been designated for anyone who may show signs of symptoms. This area has a separate exit to allow for privacy and limited contact with others. If it is determined that someone has the virus, we will follow CDC guidelines with respect to quarantine of the impacted individual and those that have come in contact with that individual. Our staircases and hallways will be converted into “one-way streets” in order to limit the amount of personal contact. In addition, visual markers will be placed in the gymnasium for social distancing during gym class.

At the Hallen School, students already eat lunch in their classrooms, however they were previously getting food from the cafeteria and returning with it to their classrooms. With the new protocols, we will be implementing an online ordering system whereby the students can order their meals and the food will be delivered to their classrooms, rather than having masses of students enter the cafeteria. Our previous hand reader punch clock will also be replaced with a new facial recognition time clock. This will continue to lessen the potential contact and spread of COVID-19.

Our school has also implemented a new cleaning system that is used in hospitals, nursing homes, and medical offices. It involves a spray/mister cleaning system where electrolyzed water produces two cleaning solutions which are produced in-house. This ensures that the school always has cleaning supplies which we have learned are extremely hard to come by during a global pandemic. Hallen’s custodial staff will continuously utilize the cleaning system throughout the day to ensure all surfaces, especially doorknobs, bathrooms, and items that are regularly touched, are cleaned throughout the day. In addition, teacher assistants/aides will be responsible for cleaning educational supplies and materials within the classroom throughout the day.

In addition, we have begun accumulating PPE equipment as we anticipated shortages of PPE equipment throughout the year. It will be very important to maintain proper inventory levels and ensure that PPE is properly stored and maintained.

Furthermore, as Hallen has been closed for four months already, and by September it will be six months, the school will need to ensure that the water system (for cleaning and drinking) is cleaned and sanitized as water will have been sitting stagnant for an extended period of time. Hallen will also be reviewing its ventilation and air purification systems to see if improved ventilation can be implemented.

The global pandemic has forced educators to be creative in developing student education plans. Approximately 20% of Hallen’s student population participate in work-based learning at community job sites. Different skills are learned in the community such as inventory, janitorial, and clerical skills. Thinking into the future, we are creating work-based learning programs incorporating technology. The students can implement the processing of online cafeteria orders, monitor the educational library, and control the inventory of our school store all by using technology and web-based programs.

Chrome books or tablets will be provided to every student in order to facilitate learning. Schools can amend or use their Smart Bond and IDEA grant funds to help cover the cost of such equipment.

If need be, the high school population can and will continue remote learning while the younger students would relocate to the larger classrooms so that social distancing rules can be followed while they continue to get the appropriate education. If high-schoolers are able to come on sight, we will look to keep students in units so that we can limit interaction and thus lessen the likelihood and impact of an outbreak within the school.

Nevertheless, as we continue to improve and implement policies, we are staying strong and using all of our creativity to help protect students and staff while giving them the education they had hoped for.