School systems that used daily, home-based health symptom questionnaires for students and staff this school year as part of their COVID-19 in-person learning mitigation strategy are weighing whether to keep their policies in place for next school year. Some administrators say the self-administered health check-ins helped with contact tracing and with reducing infection rates, according to interviews conducted by K-12 Dive.
Some school districts such as Chicago Public Schools and Los Angeles Unified School District required students and staff to answer daily online questionnaires before the school day, while others like Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools relied on the honor system for families to report when a student had a high temperature, traveled to a COVID-19 hotspot, or was in contact with someone who contracted COVID-19.
As schools make plans to welcome all students back for full-time, in-person learning in the fall, leaders said they are reevaluating health protocols based on updated guidance from local, state and federal agencies, as well as taking into consideration what worked well and what did not from the 2020-21 school year, school administrators said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to update its guidance for K-12 school operations for the 2021-22 school year in the coming weeks, including masking and social distancing recommendations.
CDC does advise that schools adhere to its current protocols through the end of the current school year. Those practices include schools encouraging parents and caregivers to monitor their child’s health through home-based symptom screening.
Laurie Combe, president of the National Association of School Nurses, said this school year, school systems used a variety of methods to encourage home-based symptom checks and to collect verification that parents answered a series of questions about their child’s health. Schools used online apps, Google Forms or other methods to collect the information, Combe said, noting that for the most part, school systems are still determining health protocols for next school year. Many are trying to balance safety during the ongoing pandemic with creating a more traditional school experience, she said.
Superintendent Michael Lubelfeld with the North Shore School District 112 in Highland Park, Illinois, said his district asked staff and students’ parents to conduct daily health checks before each school day through an online app. “The benefits were that some children and staff with symptoms were better able to regulate their attendance and health care as a result of our greater sensitivity to health screening daily,” Lubelfeld said in an email.
The district is tentatively planning to continue the practice next year if recommended by local health officials, Lubelfeld said.
The Premont Independent School District in Texas, which had full-time, in-person classes for the entire school year, plans to implement several safety protocols next school year except masking, which a state executive order says cannot be mandatory, said Superintendent Steve VanMatre. “We did everything that you could possibly do regarding mitigation strategies for COVID, and we will continue doing that,” VanMatre said.
Those protocols, including daily online health checks for staff and daily honor system health checks for students, will continue until enough of the student population is vaccinated or until the district receives guidance advising against those practices, VanMatre said.
Currently, only students 12 and older are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
“We've got a whole campus of kids that are under 12, so yes, we're going to continue being very conservative with what we do because it's worked for us,” VanMatre said.