The annual State of School Safety event was held via Zoom Tuesday, Sept. 10 by Director of Operations Harley Williams to address the Parent & Student COVID-19 Guide and the district’s protocols to reduce risks to safety and health.
Williams first discussed improvements to the district’s general safety and security procedures.
“Unfortunately, in today’s world, we still must prepare for non-Covid threats to our staff and our students while at school,” Williams said.
He said the district has four new enhancements to the general safety model: a staff alerter, a digital radio system, a phone system and a new procedure for visitor management.
The staff alerter is an instant alarm and communication system installed in each building designed to flash and sound whenever there is suspicion of school intruders, Williams explained. He added this alerter sends students and staff updates and information via text or email to stay in constant contact.
Williams said the digital radio system is capable of immediately placing the user on the Bexley Police Department S.O.S. channel, which the BPD constantly monitors.
Next, a new phone system was installed in the Cassingham Elementary School complex to give classrooms direct contact, via comm buttons, to the main office, Williams said. He added this system will be implemented at Maryland and Montrose Elementary Schools in the near future.
Lastly, he said a new visitor management system was installed at both Maryland and Montrose Elementary Schools where visitors’ driver’s licenses will be scanned outside the building before they may enter.
Williams also addressed how the district is responding to the pandemic. If someone in the district tests positive for COVID-19, Williams said he and the schools’ nurses would serve as the district’s contact tracing team and begin preliminary contact tracing until Franklin County Public Health gets involved. Williams explained they start the process on those who exhibit Covid-like symptoms for three or more days or who tested positive for the coronavirus.
He also said that the district will not close if someone tests positive for Covid.
“We put a lot of steps in place to prevent the spread [of COVID-19],” he explained. “If our plan works, we should be successful in mitigating the spread of the virus. So [a positive Covid case] will not automatically close down the school.”
Williams also addressed strategies the district implemented to reduce Covid risk.
“While we cannot eliminate the risk of Covid… we can take multiple measures to mitigate our risk and stop its ability to spread throughout our schools,” Williams said.
He said the district is using the “Swiss cheese model,” where a hole in the effectiveness of one approach is covered by another. For example, wearing a mask reduces risk if students or faculty find themselves within six feet of one another, he added.
Williams addressed the Bexley Health Pledge, which asks students and staff to pledge to follow the district’s guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and which he said will only be enforced when students and staff are in school. Those who do not follow the pledge may be seen as committing an “act of insubordination” and could face consequences, he said.
“Unfortunately, this has already happened once this summer with contractors and workers,” Williams added. “They were asked to leave for not properly wearing their masks while around others in the building.”
Students and faculty are expected to notify the district immediately if they or a family member tests positive for the coronavirus, Williams said. He explained they can also report these cases on the district’s website, which will send emails to the contact tracing team so they can act promptly.
Williams concluded his presentation by describing mitigation strategies in place and what they mean for students and staff.
“The first and most important mitigation strategy we have in place is to assume that everyone you come into contact with has Covid,” Williams said. “Behave that way. And if you do, you’re going to stay safe and help stop the spread.”
Williams said students and staff are required to wear appropriate face masks, and they must be worn properly, which is why the district purchased over 10,000 masks for those who need them. However, there are accommodations in place for those who can’t wear face masks due to medical reasons so they do not put themselves or anyone else at risk, he explained.
The district is enforcing students and staff to maintain six feet of distance between each other, Williams said, but if they must come within six feet of one another, they may only do so for less than 15 minutes. The district mandated one-way travel throughout the hallways, limited restroom capacity, implemented dividers in classrooms and eliminated locker and water fountain usage in order to maintain this distance, he explained. Williams said the district is installing more water bottle filling stations and that there is more time in between classes to compensate for these changes. During lunch, the cafeteria has dividers to ensure six feet of distance for high school and middle school students, and elementary school students are to eat in their classrooms, Williams said.
He emphasized there are sanitizing stations in classrooms and elsewhere around the school so students and staff can clean their hands as they enter and leave. The custodial staff will clean touch surfaces throughout the school day and will use cleaning agents and protocol approved by the Centers for Disease Control, Williams said.
The district will limit visitors to the schools and eliminate volunteers entirely, he explained. Williams added that students and staff must also inform the district if they are going out of town, as the district must evaluate if the student or staff member must quarantine for 14 days upon return. The district will ask if the student or faculty member is visiting a place with high Covid numbers and what precautions are being taken.
Additionally, classrooms with windows must leave those windows open, and for classrooms without windows, the district installed improved HVAC filters as well as industrial oscillating fans, Williams said.
Finally, Williams touched on the changes in clinic procedures. He said wait seating will occur in the hallway and treatment will be limited only to those who need medical treatment, with mental health issues being referred to a school counselor or principal. Each building has an isolation room for students who exhibit Covid-like symptoms until a parent or guardian can pick them up, Williams added.
Williams said the district is taking all the necessary steps to ensure that students may continue attending school safely, but that the responsibility ultimately falls on students and staff to do their part.
“When I was in the national guard, we had signs and pictures for the people in different roles or positions in our unit, but under the title for safety compliance officer there was only a mirror,” Williams said. “I’m taking the same approach. We are all safety compliance officers. It is a shared responsibility. We all have an important role in keeping each other safe.”