The moment we have been waiting on has arrived. Pre-K and kindergarten students are returning to in-person learning on November 9, 2020.
While it is exciting to have students back in school buildings learning, Tulsa Public Schools must prepare to do so safely. Over the past weeks, school leaders, teachers, and building staff have participated in multiple safety training courses. They are learning everything from encouraging mask-wearing to proper room ventilation.
Each day, before taking students to school, families will be required to go through the student health assessment questionnaire with their children. If the answer to any of the questions is "yes", the student should remain at home. Teachers and building staff will also take the adult version of the assessment and be asked to stay home if they answer any questions with "yes.”
Walking into a school building will look a little different this year. Tulsa Public Schools has ensured that each school has welcome stations and safety signage throughout the buildings. The welcome stations will have trained personnel to greet students, teachers, and building visitors, overseeing safety protocols.
The signage will serve as a friendly reminder throughout the day for everyone in the building to do things safely. Primarily, practicing the 3 W's: washing your hands, watching your distance, and wearing your mask.
Although the three W's are the most common ways to stop the spread, Tulsa Public Schools have other safety practices in place to keep students and staff safe.
Some buildings have recently had new ventilation systems installed, including Merv thirteen filters and clean air scrubbers. While not all buildings have both, they do have at least one. Part of the safety training encourages teachers, when possible, to open classroom windows throughout the day, which will help the airflow in the building. Each building will have at least two ventilation methods.
Tulsa Public Schools will also use contact tracing. Since classroom sizes and the number of students in classes may not allow for proper social distancing, schools are encouraged to group students in pods. The pods are in place to combat having to quarantine an entire classroom if a positive case arises. Instead, the school can track who has been in close contact with that positive case and begin the quarantine process for those students and teachers.
To keep our buildings cleaned and sanitized, our custodians and teachers are wiping down high touch surfaces throughout the day, in addition to their daily cleaning and disinfecting process. As an additional safety layer, our buildings will be sprayed with our electrostatic sprayer on Wednesdays during distance days.
We know each building is unique. Each school is making accommodations to ensure that the safety practices will work in their building. A perfect example would be Lanier Elementary. Like other elementary schools, they are preparing to welcome their early childhood students back on Monday, November 9th and have been hard at work preparing. Lanier has put into practice the district's training and guidance. They have been very intentional in their planning for students to limit gathering.
"We have spread out entrances so that pre K - K come in one area, and first through fifth come in another area," said Interim Principal Angie Teas. "They'll come in and meet the greeter at the wellness station. They can get some hand sanitizer. If they forgot or didn't have a mask that day, they can pick up a mask. They can then pick up their breakfast and go straight to the classroom, so we're not congregating in cafeterias or gyms or anything like that."
Angie also mentioned that they will be using walkie talkies to help limit multiple groups transitioning in hallways at the same time. Tulsa Public Schools plans to have classrooms set up to social distance students as much as possible. As an additional precaution, plans are in place to have students facing one direction in the classroom as much as possible.
Throughout the day, students will be required to wear masks. We know how daunting wearing a mask all day can be, so schools are planning to give students multiple masks breaks throughout the day. Students will receive mask breaks during breakfast and lunch, as well as during recess times.
Lunch and recess planning has been very intentional to allow for proper social distancing. Students will be spread out in the lunchroom and all facing one direction.
Tulsa Public Schools has ensured all school sites have water-bottle fillers at their water fountains. Water fountains are high touch areas and will not be used as they would be in a typical school year. Instead, students will have their own water bottles from which they can drink from throughout the day.
At Lanier, the water bottle fillers don't have a laser, which means each student would have to press a button to physically fill their water bottle. Lanier has come up with a system where the teacher or a staff member will fill all their student's bottles and then sanitize the button before the next person uses this. This will help limit the number of touches each filler has.
Schools have also set up drop off and pick up so that only building personnel and students are in the building. Families will receive information on which entrance to drop their students off, and students will enter the building to wellness stations. For dismissal, Lanier staff will use walkie talkies to let students out of the building as their ride arrives to pick them up.
All schools will restrict visits to appointments only to help the school limit the number of people in the building and set up safe spaces for visitors to meet whoever they are at the school to see.
Most importantly, schools have updated health clinic procedures and set up care rooms.
"If something happens at school, even the health clinic procedures have changed. The health clerk will be going to the student as opposed to having students traveling through the hallway," said Angie Teas. "The health clerk will be there quickly upon getting the phone call; they will assess and determine if the student needs to go to the clinic. If they need to go to the care room, perhaps they are presenting symptoms, parents will be called to pick up the student."
Angie says it's the same process with adults in the building. If they're not feeling well, they will be asked to go home. Lanier has plans within the building to work with their team to ensure that they get a substitute or to utilize people from their team to cover a class with the building staff.
Our schools are working hard to prepare and continue to think of ways to keep its students safe. Safety is a team effort, and the assistance of families is vital. For more details and information on Tulsa Public schools plans, please visit our safety page and Covid-19 response page.
We look forward to having students in front of their teachers!