Student Well-Being

Teachers’ Union Gives Guidance for Schools on Coronavirus

By Arianna Prothero — February 11, 2020 4 min read
Some revelers wear face masks to guard against germs as they enjoy a Chinese New Year celebration in Brooklyn, N.Y., last month.

The head of the American Federation of Teachers is calling on President Trump’s administration to provide educators and other groups of professionals who deal closely with the public more guidance on how to respond to the growing coronavirus threat.

In a press conference Feb. 4, which also included representatives from unions for nurses and flight attendants as well as a medical expert, AFT President Randi Weingarten said educators and school nurses need more specific instructions on what they should do to prepare for an increase in coronavirus cases in the United States.

Part of the problem is that there are gaps in the resources provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local state agencies, said Jacqueline Moline, the vice president of occupational medicine, epidemiology, and prevention at Northwell Health, a health-care network in New York.

“If we’re looking to the CDC for guidance, which we certainly should be ..., they’re often deferring to state agencies. And then if you go to the state, they refer you back to the CDC,” she said. “So, it’s an endless loop where you’re looking for concrete information that doesn’t seem to be there yet.”

The fact that the coronavirus shares many symptoms with the flu—and that it’s the height of flu season—complicates the situation for schools. But it also means that, most likely, a student with a fever and respiratory symptoms has the flu.

Moline recommends that if a child is running a fever at school to ask if they or a family member has recently been to China.

“If the answer is no, then in the United States right now they should be treated as ... you have the flu or you’ve got one of these bugs going around, because chances are, that’s what it is,” Moline said. “We need to make sure that we realize there have been 10,000 deaths from flu and 19 million cases of the flu so far this year here in the United States. That is what people in all likelihood will be presenting with, particularly if they have no travel history.”

There have been just over 11 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, according to the CDC, but no deaths at the time Education Week went to print.

Globally, there were more than 24,500 confirmed cases of coronavirus and some 500 deaths, most of which are in China, according to the World Health Organization.

If a school nurse suspects a student may have coronavirus, the school should contact the state or local public health agency to report the case, according to guidelines put together by the AFT.

Moline and Weingarten also recommended that principals encourage sick students and staff to stay home and that there should not be any repercussions for doing so.

The AFT’s other recommendations for schools include:

•Evaluating ventilation systems to ensure they are delivering adequately fresh air to classrooms;

•Isolating students with fever and respiratory symptoms as much as possible from their peers until they can be picked up from school;

•Coordinating with the local health department to develop a response should the coronavirus spread in their community;

•Educating and providing students, staff, and parents with reminders—such as posters—on preventing the spread of virus including washing hands, not touching faces, and staying home when sick;

•Instructing custodial and classroom staff to follow appropriate disinfection practices that focus on keeping high-touch areas such as doorknobs disinfected without overusing cleaners that could harm students with asthma.

The AFT has compiled additional recommendations for school nurses and custodians.

Weingarten said the lack of information on how to respond to the coronavirus is contributing to panic and the likelihood of profiling people of Chinese descent. She said her core message to educators is this: “No panic, no profiling, and wash your hands.”

Although there are a handful of confirmed cases of coronavirus in this country, some schools have had to grapple with the possibility that their students were exposed.

In Florida’s Palm Beach County, a group of 30 high school students and three teachers were told to stay home after having been potentially exposed to coronavirus while attending a Model United Nations event at Yale University, according to local media. The last day of the event was canceled when a Chinese student was taken to a local hospital with a cough and a fever. The student turned out to have the flu, not the coronavirus, and the Palm Beach students and teachers have returned to school.

A charter school in Philadelphia also had a scare when a Chinese exchange student got sick, but tests later showed the student did not have coronavirus. The school, however, told parents it was ending the exchange program, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Finally, some schools in Arizona have been dealing with the opposite problem: coronavirus hoaxes, report local media. A fake breaking-news alert claiming that students who attend Mesa Public Schools, the state’s largest district, had contracted the coronavirus was circulating on social media, forcing the district to warn families to be on the lookout for hoaxes.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the February 12, 2020 edition of Education Week as Teachers’ Union Issues Guidance on Coronavirus

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Engaging Young Students to Accelerate Math Learning
Join learning scientists and inspiring district leaders, for a timely panel discussion addressing a school district’s approach to doubling and tripling Math gains during Covid. What started as a goal to address learning gaps in
Content provided by Age of Learning & Digital Promise, Harlingen CISD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Sponsor
Breathe Easier About In-Person Learning
Blueair’s Guide To Using Relief Funding For Cleaner Air 
Content provided by Blueair
Student Well-Being What the Research Says Child Abuse Cases Got More Severe During COVID-19. Could Teachers Have Prevented It?
A study finds that the severity of identified child abuse cases grew during the pandemic, even as reports of abuse declined.
3 min read
Image of a sad girl in the shadows
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Student Well-Being The Pandemic Brought Universal Free School Meals. Will They Stay?
Relaxed rules during the COVID-19 pandemic have allowed schools to serve universal free meals. Some in Congress want to make that permanent.
8 min read
Kejuan Turner, 8, eats a burger from a free bagged lunch provided by the Jefferson County School District on the back of his mother's truck with his brother, Kendrell, 9, outside their home in Fayette, Miss.
Kejuan Turner, 8, eats a burger from a free bagged lunch provided by the Jefferson County school district on the back of his mother's truck with his brother, Kendrell, 9, outside their home in Fayette, Miss., in March.
Leah Willingham/AP
Student Well-Being What the Research Says Getting Face Time With Students May Be More Important Than You Think
There's a good reason for teachers and students to keep their cameras on in class, a new neuroscience study suggests.
3 min read
Mashea Ashton, principal and founder of Digital Pioneers Academy, drops in to different Zoom classes to see how students and teachers are doing.
Mashea Ashton, the principal and founder of Digital Pioneers Academy, drops in on a Zoom class. New research shows ways teachers can build better bonds with students online.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week