Distancing of students and staff, desk spacing, staggered meal times, repeated hand washing, and the avoidance of physical contact may be the new reality for students returning to school in September.
The interim guidance from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre for the reopening of schools, issued to the Department of Education last week, encourages schools to limit interaction on arrival and departure and in hallways and other shared spaces within schools.
Social physical contact like hand to hand greetings and hugs should be discouraged, while pupils and teachers should avoid sharing items such as pens, tablets, and phones.
Behaviours that involve hand to mouth contact such as putting pens/pencils in the mouth should also be discouraged, while contact surfaces, keyboards, or tablets should be cleaned regularly and hand hygiene encouraged.
Face masks are not required for school staff if physical distancing is in place as face masks conceal facial expression and can make communication difficult. The wearing of a visor as an alternative to a facial covering may be considered.
Specific measures for primary and post-primary level outlined in the guidelines include:
- A distance of one metre should be maintained between desks or between individual pupils from third class upwards;
- Where possible, work-stations should be allocated consistently to the same staff and children rather than having spaces that are shared;
- Pupils and their teachers should be structured into Class Bubbles (a class grouping which stays apart from other classes) and ‘Pods’ within those class bubbles
- If a class is divided into pods, there should be at least one metre between individual pods within the class bubble and between individuals in the pod, whenever possible;
- Different class bubbles should, where possible, have staggered breaks and meal times or separate areas for these events
• Physical distancing of two metres where possible or at least one metre should be maintained between desks or between individual students or staff.
- As far as possible, students would remain in the classroom and teachers would move between rooms;
- All students would be assigned to a main class cohort, which would remain in the classroom for most subjects with teachers moving between rooms;
- Where possible, double classes should be planned to minimise movement during the day.
- Where students have to move to an elective subject they should move quickly into the new class and would be seated with members of their class cohort, observing as much physical distancing as possible.
- Hand washing and/or sanitising should be required when moving between classes by both teacher and students.
- Physical distancing between the teacher and the class would be observed.
- Where movement of class groups between rooms is required it should be planned to minimise interaction with other class groups by staggering such movements.