Classroom precautions during COVID-19
Tips for teachers to protect themselves and their students.
As schools reopen, it’s important that precautions are taken both inside and outside the classroom to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This article aims to support teachers with information and tips on:
- Physical distancing at school
- Practicing health and hand hygiene
- Cleaning and disinfecting tips for the classroom
- Actions to take if a student appears sick
A key lesson learned during the pandemic is the important role teachers play in ensuring that learning continues. As schools reopen, a lot will depend on teachers to ensure that children will be able to continue their education in a safe and healthy environment; and make up for knowledge and skills that may have been lost.
As a teacher, knowing the facts will not only protect yourself but also your students. Be aware of fake information and dangerous myths about COVID-19 circulating that are feeding fear and stigma.
Some of your students might be returning to school from households where they heard false information about COVID-19. You will need to educate them on the facts.
Understanding COVID-19, how it spreads and how we can protect ourselves and others is an important first step in establishing classroom procedures and protocols. Students need to understand what it is in order for them to follow the rules. Listen to their concerns and ideas and answer their questions in an age-appropriate manner. Discuss the different reactions they may experience and explain that these are normal reactions to an abnormal situation.
Teachers need to be protected from transmission of COVID-19 in the community to keep schools open. Teachers are therefore encouraged, and should be prioritized, to get vaccinated against COVID-19 once frontline health personnel and high-risk populations are vaccinated. Though vaccination against COVID-19 should not be a requirement for school reopening and in-person learning, COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective tools for preventing severe illness and death from COVID-19.
Make sure to use information about COVID-19 from reliable sources such as UNICEF and WHO, as well as the health authorities in your country. By staying informed about the situation and following the recommendations of public health experts, we can protect our own wellbeing and those around us.
Physical distancing at schools
When it comes to physical distancing, it is important that you establish some classroom ground rules in accordance with the procedures established by your school’s administration, as well as the protocols established by your respective country’s Ministry of Health and/or local health bodies and authorities. Recommended measures include:
- Maintain a distance of at least 1 metre between everyone present at school
- Increase desk spacing (at least 1 metre between desks), stagger recesses/breaks and lunch breaks (if difficult, one alternative is to have lunch at desks)
- Limit the mixing of classes for school and after-school activities. For example, students in a class will stay in one classroom throughout the day, while teachers move between classrooms; or classes could use different entrances, if available, or establish an order for each class to enter and leave the building/classroom
- Stagger the school day to vary the start and end times and avoid having all the students and teachers together at once
- Consider increasing the number of teachers, if possible, to allow for fewer students per classroom (if space is available)
- Advise against crowding during school pick-up or day care, and if possible avoid pick up by older family or community members (i.e. grandparents). Arrange school pick up/drop off times differently (according to age group) to decrease any large gatherings of children at a given time
- Use signs, ground markings, tape, barriers and other means to maintain 1 metre distance in queues around entrances
- Discuss how to manage physical education and sports lessons
- Move lessons outdoors or ventilate rooms as much as possible
- Encourage students not to gather and socialize in big groups upon leaving school grounds.
To encourage your students to stick to the rules, it can be helpful to create a dos and dont’s list with them. Develop a list together around how students will greet each other; how desks will be arranged; physical distancing measures during lunch breaks (who they will sit with, play with during breaks, how they can schedule time with all of their friends across the week).
Health and hand hygiene
Teachers have a critical role to play in ensuring students understand the precautions they should take to protect themselves and others from COVID-19, and it is important you lead by example in the classroom.
Handwashing is one of easiest, more cost efficient and effective way of combating the spread of germs and keeping students and staff healthy.
Teach the five steps for handwashing
- Wet hands with safe, running water
- Apply enough soap to cover wet hands
- Scrub all surfaces of the hands – including backs of hands, between fingers and under nails – for at least 20 seconds. You can encourage students to sing a quick song at this point to make it a fun habit
- Rinse thoroughly with running water
- Dry hands with a clean cloth or single-use towel.
If there is limited access to a sink, running water or soap in the school, then use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 per cent alcohol.
Did you know? Cold water and warm water are equally effective at killing germs and viruses – as long as you use soap!
Encourage students to get into the practice of regularly washing their hands and/or applying hand sanitizers at key moments, such as entering and leaving the classroom; touching surfaces, learning materials, books, and after using a tissue to blow their nose.
Students should always cough and/or sneeze into their elbow. However, if by accident they do so in/on their hands, instruct them to immediately wash their hands or apply hand sanitizer. If students sneeze or cough into a tissue, ensure that it is disposed of immediately and that they wash their hands. It is extremely important to normalize the idea of frequent and routine handwashing.
Even with clean hands, encourage students to avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth. Germs can transfer from those areas on to their clean hands and spread around the classroom this way.
Reinforce frequent handwashing and sanitation and procure needed supplies. Prepare and maintain handwashing stations with soap and water, and if possible, place alcohol-based hand sanitizers in each classroom, at entrances and exits, and near lunchrooms and toilets.
Identify some practical steps/activities you can take to demonstrate good hygiene practices to your students. Examples include:
- Creating a hand hygiene song to sing with your students
- Have students draw hygiene posters for the classroom
- Set a hand hygiene ritual. You can select a specific time during the day, such as before/after lunchtime for everyone to wash their hands/apply hand sanitizer
- Physically demonstrate how to wash your hands and apply sanitizer
- Keep a points system in your classroom, giving points to students each time they wash their hands or apply sanitizer
- Have students create a public service announcement on hand hygiene and place these posters/ announcements throughout the classroom or school in highly visible places
Mask wearing in schools
If wearing masks is recommended in your school, then make sure your students are familiar with when they should wear masks and any related school policies, such as how to dispose of used masks safely to avoid the risk of contaminated masks in classrooms and playgrounds.
Explore with your students how to handle and store masks properly.
All efforts should be made to ensure the use of a mask does not interfere with learning. No children should be denied access to education because of mask wearing or the lack of a mask because of low resources or unavailability.
If you have students with disabilities, such as hearing loss or auditory problems in your class, then consider how these children may miss learning opportunities because of the degraded speech signal stemming from mask wearing, the elimination of lipreading and speaker expressions and physical distancing. Adapted masks to allow lipreading (e.g. clear masks) or use of face shields may be explored as an alternative to fabric masks.
Cleaning and disinfecting
Information on how to maintain the cleanliness and sanitization of your classroom.
Daily cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces and objects that are touched often, such as desks, countertops, doorknobs, computer keyboards, hands-on learning items, taps, phones and toys.
Immediately clean surfaces and objects that are visibly soiled. If surfaces or objects are soiled with body fluids or blood, use gloves and other standard precautions to avoid coming into contact with the fluid. Remove the spill, and then clean and disinfect the surface.
Tips for staff using cleaning materials
- Ensure you understand all instruction labels and understand safe and appropriate use
- Follow the instructions on the labels
- Cleaning products and disinfectants often call for the use of gloves or eye protection. For example, gloves should always be worn to protect your hands when working with bleach solutions
- Do not mix cleaners and disinfectants unless the labels indicate it is safe to do so. Combining certain products (such as chlorine bleach and ammonia cleaners) can result in serious injury or death
- Diluted household bleach solutions may also be used if appropriate for the surface
- Check the label to see if your bleach is intended for disinfection and has a sodium hypochlorite concentration of 0.5%. Ensure the product is not past its expiration date. Some bleaches, such as those designed for safe use on coloured clothing or for whitening may not be suitable for disinfection
- Household bleach will be effective against coronaviruses when properly diluted
- Follow manufacturer’s instructions for application and proper ventilation. Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser
- Leave solution on the surface for at least 1 minute.
- Come up with some fun and creative ideas and rules with your students for avoiding high-risk and high-touch areas in their school/classroom. For example, not touching the railing while walking up and down the stairs, or keeping classroom doors open to avoid touching door-knobs
- Come up with some rules together as a group and write these down on a flipchart paper that you can later hang up in the classroom
- Create fun reminders/posters that can be hung in the hallways to remind others to stick to the sanitation rules.
Actions to take if one of your students appears to be sick
Identifying COVID-19 symptoms
The most common symptoms are fever, cough, and tiredness. Other symptoms can include shortness of breath, chest pain or pressure, muscle or body aches, headache, loss of taste or smell, confusion, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, and skin rashes.
School preparations and what to do if one of your students displays any of the symptoms
- Designate a specific area in the school (i.e. near the entrance) as a waiting room where children can wait. Ideally, this room should be well-ventilated. If there are school nurses available, it is recommended that they are designated staff in this waiting area. If students feel ill and/or exhibit symptoms of COVID-19, they should wait in the designated room to be picked up by their parents/caregiver. Afterwards, the room should be cleaned, disinfected and sanitized
- Provide the sick student with a medical mask if available
- Consider daily screening for body temperature, and history of fever or feeling feverish in the previous 24 hours, on entry into the building for all staff, students and visitors to identify persons who are sick
- Ensure a procedure for separating sick students and staff from those who are well – without creating stigma – and a process for informing parents, and consulting with health care providers/ health authorities wherever possible
- Students/ staff may need to be referred directly to a health facility, depending on the situation/ context, or sent home
- Encourage all students to stay home and self-isolate should they feel ill
- Develop a standard of operation if temperature screening is required
- Share procedures with parents and students ahead of time.
There have been several reports of children acquiring a multisystem inflammatory condition, which is possibly linked with COVID-19. If you notice any rash, hypertension, or acute gastrointestinal problems in your students, it could be an indication that they are experiencing multisystem inflammatory syndrome and should seek medical attention immediately.
Create your own infection control plan. What actionable steps do you take if a student reports feeling ill during the school day? Consider all possible steps you can take from the moment they tell you.
This article is based on Ready to Come Back: Teacher Preparedness Training Package
- Framework for reopening schools
- WHO, UNICEF, UNESCO Considerations for school-related public health measures in the context of COVID-19
This article was originally published on 20 September 2020. It was last updated on 14 September 2021.