Safety measures: Schools take strict precautions this summer

HARLINGEN — Safety at every turn.

Before a student even leaves the vehicle for a class this summer, a Harlingen school district employee checks his or her temperature. And, that student must be exiting the vehicle at the area designated for his or her specific class.

Once in class, the student must sit at least six feet from everyone else. It’s all very specific, very designated, very “safe.”

While many schools have begun closing campuses again in response to a spike in coronavirus cases, the Harlingen school district has implemented strict protocols to protect students, faculty and staff from infection.

“When we made the decision to offer summer programming, we knew that if we were going to do that, safety was going to be our number one priority,” said Alicia Noyola, chief academic officer.

“We went through a rigorous process in identifying what would be the protocols that we would put in place in whatever program we were offering this summer,” Noyola said.

“Beyond the Bell” enrichment and remediation programs began June 8; more will begin Monday and continue into July. For the Beyond the Bell programs, which have been taking place indoors, only 10 students could be together in a group last session.

“We had a maximum of 10 students to one teacher and we made sure that our groups stayed consistent so that our students were not interacting with a large number of students,” Noyola said. “It was just that 10 students together throughout that time.”

Desks were also placed six feet apart.

“We didn’t have any group or pair work,” Noyola said. “We did not allow any supplies to be shared amongst our students. Each student had his or her own set of supplies. If the need existed for any type of shared equipment in any of our programs they had to go through thorough disinfection before and after use.”

The district also implemented a number of “cleaning” safeguards.

“We were cleaning all of our spaces before and after students would leave throughout the buildings,” Noyola said. “All of our high-touch areas, like door handles and things of that nature, were disinfected throughout the day.”

Teachers spent a great deal of time with the “little ones” reviewing handwashing techniques, Noyola said.

“We had hand sanitizers in every classroom,” she said. “Throughout the hallways we had hand sanitizing stations outside of the classrooms as well.”

Each student, regardless of age, regardless of program, had to go through a screening process, Noyola said.

“We have an actual survey that all parents fill out for their students,” she said. “The survey asks some basic questions with regard to signs of illness, or if they’ve been in contact with anybody that has displayed any signs of illness.”

Teachers, students and staff all had to take the same survey.

Students who were found to be running a temperature in their vehicles had to return home. Those who were allowed to enter school facilities still have random temperature checks throughout the day.

No visitors were allowed onto school grounds during the day. Students, teachers and staff all wore masks at all times.

These same safety measures will be in place for the rest of summer school for both Beyond the Bell and remediation.

The district has been concerned that, in general, people must lean in to use water fountains. For that reason, the schools have switched to water bottle dispensers.

“We just felt it was more hygienic and really a better way for our students to have their water as opposed to water fountains,” Noyola said. “So we have those refill stations for all of our students.”

But what about the fountains?

“We are actually looking to convert our water fountain stations into handwashing stations for students,” Noyola said.

In the time of corona, the phrase “cleanliness is next to godliness” seems to have taken on a whole new tone.