Questions arise as novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads

The spread of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has called into question what SPS plans to do to prevent an outbreak within Westhill and other schools in the district // Image courtesy of pixabay.com.

With Coronavirus (COVID-19) spreading by the day, many staff and students have been wondering how Stamford Public Schools (SPS) is planning to respond to the virus and prevent an outbreak here at Westhill. The district sent out an email to families regarding their plan of action on March 4 but the staff of Westhill was not informed until March 6, when Superintendent Lucero sent a letter discussing ways to prevent the virus in schools and information from the Center for Disease Control (CDC). On March 5, an optional staff meeting was held in the media center in order to discuss these issues. 

Foremost was the issue of sanitation. Because there is no direct treatment for the Coronavirus, the CDC recommends hand-washing as the most effective method of prevention, along with coughing and sneezing into the elbow and keeping hands away from the face. However, many of the staff and student bathrooms lack soap and paper towels to use for hand-washing. Multiple teachers also raised the concern of a shortage of classroom cleaning supplies such as hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. Dr. Lucero announced in her email to the staff that the Stamford Asset Management Group is working on cleaning door knobs, handrails, desks, and countertops as well as purchasing extra cleaning supplies.

“According to the CDC, the first line of defense is washing your hands, so I think that the number one priority about how to handle it in the school sanitation-wise would be to make sure that all student bathrooms are open and have soap and paper towels available at all times, which means that the custodians need to be vigilant about going in multiple times a day, checking all of the student and faculty bathrooms to replenish any supplies that are getting depleted. I think that that is the number one thing; it might be difficult with timing on wiping down surfaces in the classroom but I think that it would be helpful for us to be given supplies to wipe down our classrooms and common areas; the cafeteria tables need to be wiped down properly in between waves with cleaning solutions and disinfectants, [as well as] handrails [and] door knobs. It is a big undertaking but I think that we can really make sure that we at least have the tools to do what we need to do to stop the spread through just washing your hands,” science teacher Ms. Grant said.

Beyond cleaning supplies, it was discussed in the meeting that custodians have recently been short staffed and not been paid for overtime, meaning that some custodial duties are neglected due to a lack of staff or time. The limited staff means that custodians are forced to focus on emptying garbages rather than sweeping or wiping down desks, leaving teachers to disinfect their classrooms without the supplies with which to do so.

While there are no plans yet to cancel schools in Stamford, the Board of Education is monitoring other districts, possibilities of Coronavirus cases in the area, and health-related student absences. The Connecticut Department of Health is also advising that school-sponsored international trips are canceled, a measure already taken by Stratford Public Schools, which has canceled all out-of-state field trips. 

According to nbcnewyork.com, Scarsdale Public Schools have already closed through March 18 after a teacher tested positive for the virus over the weekend. Despite the city having the largest outbreak in the country, public schools in Seattle, WA have chosen not to close so that students can still receive services such as meals, according to seattletimes.com.

Concerns have been raised regarding how to proceed with courses in the event of closure, especially for classes with AP exams in May. While some teachers have suggested virtual learning, not all students in the district have access to a computer or Wi-Fi. Some teachers suggested printing packets for students to keep at home, but that begs the question of whether the district will pay for it.

It has also been suggested that staff and students should self-quarantine for two weeks if traveling internationally or self-quarantine for one week if traveling domestically. However, students fear that this will affect their attendance, and the district has made it unclear whether or not the staff will be paid during these two weeks.

SPS plans to continue to reassess the situation as it evolves, but for now is leaving schools open while focusing on keeping them clean and encouraging healthy habits among students and staff.

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