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Returning safely to schools

This guidance for school decision-makers and educators covers what to consider when deciding if and how to reopen schools in the context of Covid-19. These decisions have important implications for teachers and other staff, children, parents or carers, communities and society at large.

The full guide includes: 

  • What to consider when deciding to reopen schools
  • The local situation 
  • School setting and ability to maintain Covid-19 prevention and control measures 
  • Behavioural aspects
  • Recommended measures
  • Monitoring schools after re-opening

What to consider when deciding to reopen schools

Ideally there should be standard operating procedures or checklists, issued nationally, to help in planning to reopen schools. Where decisions have to be made more locally, this guidance offers some considerations for local education authorities and school leaders. The planning should take into account the local situation, the school’s ability to maintain control measures, behavioural aspects, hygiene practices and physical distancing  

Recommended measures

The following strategies and adaptations should be in place wherever possible:

Hygiene and environmental cleaning 

  • Educate everyone in the school about Covid-19 prevention, including hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, mask use if mandated, Covid-19 symptoms and what to do if feeling sick. Advise non-contact greetings.
  • Create a schedule for frequent hand hygiene, especially for young children, and provide sufficient alcohol-based sanitiser or soap and clean water at entrances and throughout the school.
  • Schedule cleaning of the school environment daily, including toilets, frequently touched surfaces such as door handles, desks, toys, supplies, light switches, doorframes, play equipment, teaching aids used by children and book covers.
  • Assess how to limit exposure, or direct physical contact, in physical education classes, sports or other physical activities and play.
  • Increase frequency of cleaning in sports facilities and changing rooms, provide hand hygiene stations at entrances and exits, establish one-way circulation of students and limit the number using the changing room at one time.
  • Establish respiratory and hand hygiene and physical distancing measures for seating in school buses. This may lead to a need to increase the number of school buses per school. If possible, keep bus windows open. Give tips to students on safe commuting to and from school, including those using public transport.
  • Develop a school policy on wearing a mask or a face covering in line with national or local guidance. Provide sufficient medical masks for those who need it, such as school nurses and children with symptoms.

Physical distancing at school

  • Maintain a distance of at least one metre between everyone present at school. Please note - the one metre distance is a recommendation by WHO. Please check with your local government guidelines to ensure this is correct in your area or region.
  • Increase desk spacing (at least one metre between desks), stagger breaks and lunchbreaks (if difficult, one alternative is to have lunch at desk).
  • Limit mixing of classes for school and after-school activities. For example, students in a class will stay in one classroom throughout the day, while teachers move between classrooms; or classes could use different entrances, if available, or establish an order for each class to enter and leave the building or classroom.
  • Expand the school timetable, with some students and teachers attending in the morning, others in the afternoon, others in the evening.
  • Consider increasing the number of teachers, if possible, to allow for fewer students per classroom (if space is available).

For more information, please read the Returning safely to schools full guide.