How To Make Classrooms Safe For Learning In A Pandemic

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Josefina Median wears a mask as she cleans a classroom at Wylie High School Tuesday, July 14, 2020, in Wylie, Texas. (LM Otero/AP Photo)
Josefina Median wears a mask as she cleans a classroom at Wylie High School Tuesday, July 14, 2020, in Wylie, Texas. (LM Otero/AP)

From new ventilation systems to Plexiglass barriers, we’ll talk with a public health professor and “healthy building” expert on what changes can make our school buildings ready for kids to go back into the classroom.


Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Co-Author of "Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity." (@j_g_allen)

Luvelle Brown, Superintendent of the Ithaca City School District. (@luvelleb)

From The Reading List

Report: "Schools for Health: Risk Reduction Strategies for Reopening Schools," from Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Copyright © 2020, Joseph Allen, Emily Jones, Anna Young, Kimberly Clevenger, Parichehr Salimifard, Erica Wu, Marianne Lahaie Luna, Mahala Lahvis, Jenna Lang, Maya Bliss, Parham Azimi, Jose Cedeno-Laurent, Cecelia Wilson.

 Adapted from"Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity," by Joseph G. Allen and John D. Macomber, published by Harvard University Press.

Copyright © 2020 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "20 Questions To Ask Before Sending Your Kids Back To School" — "Getting kids back to school must be a national priority. The risks to students from school closures, including 'virtual dropouts,' lack of food security, safety, and adverse impacts on social, physical and mental health, must be weighed against risks from being back in school."

The Wall Street Journal: "How Schools Can Reopen Safely: Recommendations From Health Experts" — "Dorian Solot is grappling with the decision of whether to send her daughters back to public school come fall, or to do something new: home-school them. 'I predict that the road ahead is going to be pretty bumpy,' says Ms. Solot, a 47-year-old Albany, N.Y., business owner and resident who has daughters entering third and seventh grade."

Minneapolis Star-Tribune: "When I think about my classroom, I don't see reopening" — "Morally, I cannot proceed to the points I wish to make about schools reopening without first noting just how many individuals in America did (and do) not have the political and economic power to stay home from work and engage in a debate about their safety before returning to their place of employment. These have disproportionately been people of color. Teachers, on the other hand, have considerable political and economic power and are disproportionately white."

The New York Times: "Most Big School Districts Aren’t Ready to Reopen. Here’s Why." — "As education leaders decide whether to reopen classrooms in the fall amid a raging pandemic, many are looking to a standard generally agreed upon among epidemiologists: To control community spread of the coronavirus, the average daily infection rate among those who are tested should not exceed 5 percent."

Healthline: "Can Schools Reopen Safely This Fall?" — "It’s going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place. The group’s recent recommendations include social distancing protocol based on different grades. For example, it’s more feasible to keep preschoolers in small groups (known as 'cohorting') with the same teacher throughout the day. Older children should have desks 3 to 6 feet apart and wear masks. They also say schools should limit unnecessary visitors to the buildings and utilize outdoor spaces for learning. The guidelines recommend safer bussing, hallway traffic monitoring, cafeteria use, cleaning, and screening protocols among other recommendations."

CNN: "Teachers worry about how we'll keep them safe if their schools reopen" — "After months out of the classroom, Sarah Gross, a high school English teacher in New Jersey, is eager for schools to reopen in the fall. But she's skeptical about how that could happen safely as Covid-19 cases rise across the country. 'I desperately want to go back to my classroom,' Gross told CNN. 'But I think that a lot of people who call for schools to reopen — especially because we need childcare or the economy to restart — don't have any idea of what schools look like today.'"

The Washington Post: "We missed one chance to open schools safely. Here’s the new, more expensive, option." — "Pathei mathos — in suffering we learn. The words of the Greek tragedian Aeschylus continue to echo in my mind. Our suffering today in America is finally teaching us that we need to fight COVID-19 for real; we need to pursue not just mitigation — slowing the spread of disease — but suppression — getting back to near zero case incidence. But just because we grown-ups have had to learn from suffering doesn’t mean the kids should."

This program aired on July 27, 2020.


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Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.


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Hilary McQuilkin is a producer for On Point.



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