Special Alert #3: Responding to Coronavirus

March 13, 2020 

Advanced Preparation is Critical

SPECIAL NOTE: PARENT LETTER TO GO WITH TECHNOLOGY SURVEY SENT IN EARLIER ALERT (AND INCLUDED AGAIN IN THIS ALERT) IS AVAILABLE BELOW.  PLEASE SCROLL THROUGH THIS ENTIRE ALERT.

COVID-19 is an emerging, rapidly evolving situation. As schools across Florida await instructions from state and local health departments, charter schools must plan and prepare. Every charter school should have an emergency coronavirus plan that addresses these key considerations. 

  • School-based planning and preparation
  • Common sense prevention
  • Communications with families
  • Continued education at home if schools are closed
  • Meal distribution to students on the free and reduced lunch program 

School-Based Planning and Preparation 

Coronavirus emergency planning and preparation begins with the school leadership. How schools plan and prepare will not only limit the spread of the virus but reduce the anxiety of the school community. In developing your plan, consider these recommendations: 

  • Monitor the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Florida Department of Health (FDOH) and local health department websites regularly.
  • Monitor absenteeism
    • Review the usual absenteeism patterns at your school for changes among both students and staff.
    • Alert local health officials when there is an increase in student and staff absenteeism, particularly if absences appear due to respiratory illnesses (like the common cold or the “flu,” which have symptoms similar to symptoms of COVID-19).
    • Review attendance and sick leave policies. Require that students and staff stay home when sick or when a family member in the household are sick.
    • Eliminate the use of perfect attendance awards and incentives.
    • Plan for staff absences
      • Identify critical job functions and positions, and plan for alternative coverage by cross-training staff.
      • Determine what level of absenteeism will disrupt continuity of teaching and learning.
      • Establish procedures for students and staff who are sick at school.
        • Isolate sick students and staff from well students and staff.
        • Provide them with masks to help protect others.
        • Ensure frequent handwashing with soap and water.
        • Send sick students and staff home as soon as possible.
        • Follow up the next day to inquire about their health.
        • Remember that schools are not expected to screen students or staff to identify cases of COVID-19. The majority of respiratory illnesses are not COVID-19. If a community (or more specifically, a school) has cases of COVID-19, local health officials will help identify those individuals and follow up on next steps.
        • Determine if your school will cancel large activities, gatherings and fieldtrips.
        • Incorporate routine environmental cleaning throughout the day.
        • Develop a plan for the communication of information to families and the school community.
        • Outline new travel restrictions for school employees.
        • Use tabletop exercises to practice your emergency plan. 

Practice Common Sense Strategies Focused on Prevention

Everyone should do their part to respond to this emerging public health concern. Acting responsively can make a difference in the spread of the coronavirus within a school community. 

  • Train school staff on prevention expectations.
  • Order disinfectants, gloves, and janitorial supplies immediately – at a minimum enough for the remainder of the school year.
  • Practice prevention and good hygiene.
  • Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer if a sink isn’t available
  • Clean hands upon entering the school and at regular intervals
  • Allow students extra time for handwashing
  • Avoid handshaking
  • Create habits and reminders for students and staff to avoid touching their faces
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or use the inside of your elbow.Routinely disinfect frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs; electronic devices, including computers, laptops, keyboards, and iPads; tables, desks, countertops, light switches, and handrails
  • Provide disposable wipes so students and staff can wipe down surfaces before each use.
  • Limit close contact with others as much as possible (about 6 feet)
  • Increase ventilation by opening windows or adjusting air conditioning
  • Perform routine environmental cleaning throughout the day.
  • Routinely clean frequently touched surfaces (e.g., doorknobs, light switches, countertops) with the cleaners typically used. Use all cleaning products according to label directions.
  • Provide disposable wipes to wipe down commonly used surfaces (e.g., keyboards, desks, remote controls). Make this the responsibility of students and staff before each use.
  • Handle food carefully.
  • Avoid food sharing and utensils
  • Ensure cafeteria staff practice strict hygiene
  • Students and staff should stay home if sick.
  • Students and employees should stay home if they are sick
  • If a family member living in the home is sick, the student or employee should stay home
  • Clean and disinfect all areas of the school nightly.
  • Conduct a focused cleaning of the entire facility during Spring Break.
  • If you have buses, thoroughly clean them daily, including seats, seatbelts and surfaces. Conduct a focused cleaning to disinfect during Spring Break.
  • Take special precautions if you have older individuals and those with pre-existing medical conditions (e.g. cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease or diabetes) in your school. Remember, they are at a higher risk of developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness.
  • People should wear a face mask only if they are sick or caring for someone who is. 

If your school has suspected or confirmed COVID-19, CLICK HERE to access the CDC’s guidance on cleaning and disinfection.  

Communication with Families 

Communication with families is critical in times of uncertainty. Recognize there is a lot of anxiety and anticipation surrounding COVID-19. Assure parents that you are monitoring the situation daily and following the recommendations of state and local officials. 

  • Regularly communicate with families through your school website.
  • If there is a change, notify parents via automated call or other methods to reach them quickly.
  • Familiarize parents on how they can protect against getting and spreading COVID-19. Two useful links are the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/summary.html and the Florida Department of Health (FDOHhttp://www.floridahealth.gov/diseases-and-conditions/COVID-19/.
  • Share resources to help families understand when to keep children home. Although not specific to COVID-19, the American Academy of Pediatrics has a helpful guide: familiesexternal icon.
  • If schools close, be prepared to release information to families. Decide in advance how you will notify parents. Prepare a letter, email or other form of communication that outlines important, need-to-know information, including:
  • Where parents can find accurate, up-to-date information that impacts their school
    • How the administration will communicate with them during the period school is closed. (Parents need to know where to look for your message.)
    • If students will be provided education at home for a period of time, notify parents how teachers will communicate information about school assignments. (Examples: E-mail, the teacher’s classroom page on the school website, text message, Class DoJo)
    • Consider preparing standard parent and community responses to questions that may include, “What is the school doing to protect my child,” and “Why isn’t the school closing.”
      • Sample response:  The school takes the coronavirus very seriously and are closely monitoring the latest information released from the CDC, FDOH, and Governor’s Office. We are taking extra precautionary measures recommended by federal, state and local officials to keep our students safe. We are committed to communicating accurate and timely information to our families as we receive information.
      • Sample response: School closures are the decision of the FDOH, in coordination with the CDC, and the Governor’s Office. The school cannot close without direct authorization. We will follow the recommendations of state and federal officials and any future actions of the school district regarding closures. 

Educating Students at Home 

If there is an extended period of school closures, charter schools should be prepared to provide ongoing education through alternative means to students at home. 

There has been much discussion by school districts regarding the use of online instruction as an option. Districts have online learning systems and many Florida districts have stated they are prepared to provide virtual education if necessary. 

Online learning can be a viable option for many charter schools even without an extensive infrastructure. Most publishers offer an online interactive student edition as part of their K-12 digital content that is designed to support student learning.  Teachers can monitor student progress on the dashboard. Teachers can provide other online resources families can use at home to reinforce student learning and provide extra practice. 

Since access to technology varies across schools, as does the level of parental support necessary for online learning to be effective, particularly for younger students, charter schools should have other options available. 

  • Prepare weekly lessons that can be emailed to the parents and students. Student work could be returned electronically or dropped off at a designated location.
  • Prepare weekly packets of materials for parents to pick up on Friday. Insert assignments in binders or folders to help students stay organized. Distribute in the school parking lot. Parents should remain in their vehicles. 

In preparation for a potential prolonged closure of schools, FCPCS recommends that charter schools survey families to determine the students’ ability to participate in an online curriculum or virtual classroom. This information will assist charter schools in making an informed decision about an education delivery model that is appropriate and equitable, should this become necessary.  

To support our valued member schools during these uncertain times, FCPCS is pleased to provide two tools you can use: 1.) sample Parent Survey Letter; and 2.) Technology and Internet Connectivity Survey. Both can be modified to fit your school’s needs. Simply drop in your school letterhead, insert a deadline to return the survey, edit the parent survey letter and any survey questions and send it to your parents. 

To access the Sample Parent Survey Letter, CLICK HERE. 

To access the sample Technology and Internet Connectivity SurveyCLICK HERE

Student Meal Program

Students in meal programs should continue to have access to breakfast and lunch even if the coronavirus closes schools. This follows the guidance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. 

  • Recommendations include “grab-and-go” bagged or boxed meals available at the school site using a drive-through and pick-up option in the school parking lot.
  • Consider providing lunch for that day and breakfast for the following day.
  • All persons should remain in their vehicles.
  • Meals should not be consumed at the school site. 

Additional information is expected from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

FCPCS will continue to update you with the latest information and resources that impact your charter school as it becomes available.