Newly released guidelines for the safe reopening of schools in the territory offer a glimpse of a radically altered school culture, one shaped by personal distance, frequent sanitation and curtailed social events.
The guidelines, which can be accessed at www.vide.vi, are prefaced with a warning that schools will be prepared to move between three phases based on the “escalation or de-escalation” of the COVID-19 virus:
• 100% face-to-face classroom instruction, or
• 100% virtual instruction, or
• A combination of both.
Whatever the scenario, the departments of Education and Health are hoping to put safety first, as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the territory continues to rise.
This includes having staggered classes, where students transition to their next class at different times to decrease the number of students in the hallways at any one time.
Students are also recommended to stay with the same staff all day; eat breakfast and lunch in the classroom; arrange their desks six feet apart; and avoid mixing with other classes.
Masks are required at all times; water fountains will be turned off; and six-feet spacing floor decals will line the hallways.
Sanitizer or hand washing stations will be placed at every entrance and exit, and an adequate supply of cleansers and disinfectants will be at each school.
Schools are also to avoid field trips, assemblies and other large gatherings such as athletic events or practices and special performances.
While these guidelines provide an idea of the 2020-21 school year, they remain incomplete, with several instructions still awaiting further action, including:
• Establishing a plan for a temperature check of all persons entering the buildings.
• Establishing a protocol for student pick up/drop off.
• Outlining a plan for how a sick staff or student will be managed.
Further action is also needed in case virtual instruction continues, as some students who lacked technology at home were unable to receive a laptop for instruction.
The departments of Education and Health indicated that they will provide weekly updates on the status of schools and that due to the unpredictability of COVID-19, the guidelines will be reviewed and periodically updated as appropriate.