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Reopening Schools

How to Go Back to School Series Part 1: Public Health and Preparation

School districts are increasingly concerned about how COVID-19 will affect protocols and practices.
8 min read
June 18, 2020
Dr. Robert Darzynkiewicz
Board-Certified Emergency Medicine Physician
Dr. Rob has over 13 years of ER experience, the last two as the Pediatric Emergency Director. He believes technology can improve healthcare access and quality for students and their families.

School districts are increasingly concerned about how COVID-19 will affect protocols and practices when students return to school. The Institute for Education Innovation has started a dialogue with Superintendents about what to do and how to prepare. Hazel Health was asked to respond with the medical perspective on what to consider when thinking about re-opening.

Hazel Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Rob Darzynkiewicz, and Hazel Cofounder/Head of Education, Raquel Antunez, collaborated in this 3-part Q&A format to address questions asked by superintendents, and provide clarity on what steps districts might consider.

Questions sourced directly from IEI’s Superintendent Partners

Q: Do you think that the number of COVID-19 cases needs to get down to zero before we can return to school safely? I am concerned that COVID-19 will linger for a bit, perhaps through the summer and into the fall.

  • Families across the country are starting to plan for and envision a world where COVID-19 is here with us for many more months (if not years) until proper testing, treatment and vaccinations are available to all.

  • While we wait and learn more about how this virus works and the impact of community spread, we can start finding creative solutions to protect students and teachers in order to consider reopening schools. Standard screenings for sickness, guidelines for classrooms, and social distancing are all relevant tools we could use to minimize outbreaks and return to in-person learning.

  • Now is the time to start reviewing district health policies to clarify when districts might ask children to remain at home, as well as provide ongoing support systems for families conducting virtual learning. Interconnectivity of other services is also a consideration so that parents and caretakers feel supported if they need to change home or work schedules in reaction to public health changes.

  • There’s a possibility that increased cases could cycle back in the fall and winter months. This new world could be our new normal for an extended period of time, so it is time to focus on creating a sense of normalcy with appropriate safety precautions. We are launching new tools to help families and districts assess daily safety, such as allowing students to “check-in” to see if it is safe to attend that day.

Q: Do you anticipate that a new vaccination will result from this crisis? We don’t want this thing to “boomerang” and come back at some point, and a vaccination seems imminent.

  • We do anticipate that a vaccine is coming, however, it may take 18-months or longer. In addition to the development of an effective vaccine, we also will need to wait for the manufacturing and distribution of billions of doses. Due to those factors, we don’t believe that a vaccine will be widely available by the fall when schools might be considering how to return to in-person learning.

  • Right now, the US is working to flatten the curve—but we’re only preventing clusters, not preventing more cases. Without a vaccine, we could have more hot spots and a prolonged change to our education, health, and economic systems. The virus will continue to spread until we develop the fastest way to address it with a safe, reliable vaccine.

  • Once a vaccine becomes widely available, there’s a high probability that it may be added to the list of required school vaccines. In the meantime, we are working to find creative ways to keep students safe and healthy and lower community spread. Our partner districts are considering innovative ideas like block schedules; an elongated day; staggering schedules; delineating how much can be done at home versus at school, and some are even considering outposts for services or learning.

Q: What procedures will need to be in place prior to opening in order to create a safe environment for students and staff? We need plenty of time to plan, purchase safety equipment, and arrange for scheduling that meets new standards.

  • From a high level, we’re helping districts consider what happens outside of the school day and even the school year when developing procedures. For example, what role could schools play in developing or adhering to guidelines that positively influence the broader community? Within the school setting, providing teachers with ample prep time to learn and adjust to how a reopening might work will be useful.

  • From the medical perspective, Hazel has identified a few key areas of focus when deciding how to potentially reopen in your community. Here are some things we’re discussing with partner districts to promote the health and safety of both students and faculty:

1. Prevent Spread: Consider how you might leverage temperature screenings for students and employees, as well as policies on returning to school after recovering from illness. Evaluate if documentation needs updating surrounding doctors’ notes, actions to take when someone is sick, and how parents can determine when it is the right time to return to school.

2. Practice Social Distancing: Take a look at the best way your district can make classrooms and gathering spaces safer according to CDC guidelines on social distancing and groups. Systems could be created to stagger students or even have them stay in one classroom for the duration of the day rather than moving from room to room.

3. Reduce Exposure: Evaluate your particular situation and space options within your district and schools when thinking about hosting any larger gatherings. For example, could outdoor spaces be used more for gatherings that would normally happen in the gym or auditorium?

4. Disinfect: Regular disinfecting procedures are important for areas occupied by students each day. Consider how else you can encourage new disinfection habits for students, staff and parents as it relates to coming and going each day. One idea is to set up disinfecting stations for frequently used objects.

5. Wear Appropriate PPE: The guidance around PPE has changed throughout this process and will continue to evolve. Clear and simple reminders and guidelines for your district, that are relevant for your community, will help everyone understand what to do.

6. Enable Healthcare Access: One of the best ways to help support students and families during this pandemic is to increase access to physical and mental healthcare resources. An on-going, sustainable approach to at-home and at-school virtual care can help manage the health of your students and help you react to early indicators of community spread or other related issues.

This is a lot for schools to take on. Remember you don’t have to do it all alone! We are here to support you and your faculty. With Hazel, you can reach a doctor with the touch of a button. Our medical staff is here to provide proper guidance to families and reinforce individual school policies surrounding staying safe, as well as see students for acute issues, document fevers, and provide local resources for testing and screening.

If you’re interested in learning more, please contact us here.

Superintendents are defenders of our children’s right to a high-quality public education, leading their teams toward effective, sustainable solutions to age-old problems. They must be at the center of discussions around when, where, and how innovation will affect teaching and learning. Many education solution providers, funders, researchers, and thought leaders are mission-driven: they do what they do to improve student outcomes. The Institute for Education Innovation bridges the gaps between the individuals and organizations committed to seeing students succeed in school and life, creating a safe space for constructive problem-solving and innovative thinking.

About Hazel’s Contributors

Dr. Robert Darzynkiewicz, Chief Medical Officer

Dr. Rob (as he is known to the kids) is board certified in Emergency Medicine with over 13 years of experience, the last two as Pediatric Emergency Director.  Dr. Rob received his M.D. from New York Medical College. He oversees all clinical staff and operations, ensuring students are receiving top-quality, evidence-based care. Rob recognizes that technology allows him and his team to make a difference with students and their families by providing much-needed access and better care.

Raquel Antunez, Cofounder / VP Education

Raquel Antunez serves as Vice President of Education at Hazel Health. She has deep expertise in providing advisory and service to diverse ethnic and socio-economic demographics and is fluent in Spanish. Raquel has over 20 years of extensive experience in the education sector, including teaching various grade levels, serving as a school principal and director, and a multitude of other leadership roles including leading full- district implementation for English Learners and struggling learners. Raquel earned undergraduate degrees and certifications from the University of the Pacific and Universidad de Granada (Spain); she has a Master of Arts degree in Education Administration from Cal State-Sacramento.

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Parent Story
A father was concerned when his son was showing COVID-19 symptoms. His school uses Hazel, so he was able to contact a Hazel doctor from home.

The Hazel provider recommended he get a COVID-19 test and shared resources to help find a testing center in their area. The father was eager to help his son feel better and appreciated being able to quickly get answers and advice.
Nurse Story
A student came into the nurse's office with a sprained ankle. After icing her foot, she still was in pain, so the nurse called Hazel. Thankfully, her family had provided consent for over-the-counter pain relief because she was able to take some medicine and return to class feeling better.

After the visit, the Hazel provider reached out to the school nurse to check on the student’s injury. The nurse shared that the student’s ankle was improving, and she appreciated the follow-up.
Parent Story
A mother noticed her son was getting low on his asthma medication. She tried to schedule a visit with his doctor to refill his prescription, but no appointments were available. She didn’t want her son to run out of medicine, so she reached out to Hazel.

The provider was able to send the refill to a local pharmacy within one day. The mother was happy that her son would have the medicine he needed. She was also amazed at how easy and fast the entire process was.
Student Story
A student was coughing and sneezing a lot, but her family wasn’t sure if she was sick or had allergies. Thankfully, her school used Hazel, and they could get an answer.

After talking with the school nurse and the Hazel provider about her symptoms and medical history, the student was happy to find out it was likely allergies. She got some medicine and returned to class feeling better.
Student Story
During the pandemic, a high school student was having a hard time coping. She was sad about COVID-19 impacting her senior year, and she was worried about the state of the world. The student was also struggling with some personal conflicts, and she felt she didn't have the right support at home. After discussing her feelings, a Hazel doctor connected her with resources that she described as “life-changing.” She was very grateful and shared that she didn't know where to go for help before Hazel.
Parent Story
Shortly after COVID-19 began, a student began to develop tics. Her parents took her to a neurologist, but they wanted to get her into counseling as well. The student’s mother was having a hard time finding answers to her questions and didn’t know where to start the process, so she turned to Hazel.

The Hazel doctor listened as the mother shared her concerns and frustrations. Hazel reassured her that they would find the right services for her child. After the initial visit, the Hazel doctor partnered with the school counselor and the student’s mother to identify resources and counseling services that are a good fit.
Student Story
A student came into the nurse’s office because his vision went blurry. The Hazel doctor looked at his eyes, but he did not see any injury. As he asked him questions about his symptoms, he started to sense that he was down about something. After a few minutes, the student shared that he was really sad because his mom was recently diagnosed with cancer. He explained that he feels worried, and it’s hard for him to focus.

Hazel called home, and the student’s mother confirmed her diagnosis. They discussed how to help manage the child’s stress, and Hazel offered to connect the child with counseling resources through the school. The mother was very grateful for the guidance and was eager to get her child help during a stressful time.
Counselor Story
Hazel Health has been integral this year in getting our students the mental health services needed to help them live healthy lives.  The staff has been attentive, prompt, and resourceful. There is an evident sense of caring for the work they do and the students they serve. It has been a pleasure partnering with Hazel Health in providing mental wellness for our Garland ISD families.