By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Public University
The decision when and how students should return to school this fall is on the minds of most parents. There are many implications associated with students returning to schools and childcare facilities in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and the COVID-19 illness it causes. Parents, teachers and administrators have good reason to be seriously concerned about what could occur if students were to return to school prematurely.
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New York’s Regional Enrichment Center Is a Model for Other Childcare Facilities Dealing with COVID-19
Ultimately, it is likely to come down to personal family decisions to choose between returning to brick-and-mortar schools or engaging in online learning where available. The uncertain nature of the coronavirus makes this decision especially challenging. So schools must do everything they can to provide a safe environment for teachers, staff and students.
However, one option school administrators should consider has been successfully implemented is in Queens, New York. There, a childcare facility called the Regional Enrichment Center has remained open throughout the pandemic to care for children whose parents must go into work because they are considered essential.
Interestingly, this facility began caring for 16 children and now has over 130 per day who range from three-year-olds to 10th graders, without having one positive coronavirus case. This is a notable achievement because New York City was once the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.
Steps that the Regional Enrichment Center has taken have likely been responsible for keeping the facility free of the coronavirus. In fact, other educators have contacted the center about their practices as school districts develop their plans to reopen their schools. The steps this childcare facility have taken include temperature checks using forehead thermometers as soon as the children enter the building.
At the Regional Enrichment Center, posted illustrations help remind students to maintain social distancing. Furthermore, classroom sizes are limited to only nine students and an industrial strength product is used to clean the facility daily.
There is also a face mask requirement. If a child arrives without a mask, one is provided. Both children and staff are required to wear masks throughout their time in the center.
These are important steps. The Journal of the American Medical Association, in an editorial during the week of July 14, affirmed that face coverings are a critical tool in the fight against the coronavirus.
In this editorial, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Robert Redfield, stated that “cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus – particularly when used universally within a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.”
The YMCA Is Another Model of Effective Childcare During COVID-19
Other facilities in the United States can also serve as models for how schools can open safely. For example, over the course of the pandemic, the YMCA has served up to 40,000 children between the ages of one and 14 at 1,100 facilities that have followed a similar model to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
One strategy that the YMCA has used to keep children involved in safety protocols and to enforce proper hygiene is a hand stamp that has to be scrubbed off. Temperature checks are conducted and children are provided with their own materials, such as art supplies, to prevent sharing with other children.
School districts might wish to study these COVID-19 protocols that have been effective at providing safe childcare during the pandemic. Initiatives such as small class sizes might be a challenge for some school districts due to space limitations. But studying the effectiveness of the safety protocols used by facilities serving large numbers of children could be a good starting point in developing a plan for returning to school safely.
About the Author
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor with American Public University in the School of Security and Global Studies. Jarrod was selected as the Coast Guard’s Reserve McShan Inspirational Leadership Award recipient for 2019. He has engaged in speaking engagements in the United States, Europe, and Central America on the topic of human trafficking, local law enforcement’s response to domestic terrorism, and promoting resiliency from police stress. Most recently, he presented at the International Human Trafficking Conference. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering.
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