By Andrew Hawk
Right now, many people throughout the world are battling pandemic fatigue. This term, once unknown to most humans, is now plastered across headlines and used in news broadcasts on a regular basis. The result is an urgency to roll back COVID-19 protocols and safeguards.
Since the pandemic and quarantines began early in 2020, I have yet to hear a single person who does not wish for this world health crisis to come to an end. But we can’t just roll back our COVID-19 protocols because of pandemic fatigue. We have to determine when and how to roll them back so everyone stays safe. Getting rid of COVID protocols too soon risks extending the crisis for an even longer period of time.
Here are some ideas you may want to consider when it is time to reassess your organization’s COVID-19 protocols.
1. Stay Flexible
Rolling back COVID-19 protocols requires careful consideration. Even if you determine that it is possible to ease up on some protocols, remember that this is a fluid situation. And it will likely remain fluid for some time. My school corporation recently reinstated a mask mandate that was out of service for only 10 days. We must remember that things can change and then change back too.
2. Majority Will Not Always Rule
As with many things regarding schools and education, the decisions that administrators make will not always please the majority of people who are affected. Regarding COVID-19 protocols, there is a wide spectrum of opinions ranging from wanting a lot of safeguards in place to wanting no safeguards in place. In America, we are used to the idea that the majority rules, but this does not work for COVID-19 protocols.
3. Match Protocols to Needs
While protocols can appear similar across schools, they often have some minor differences when inspected closely. COVID-19 protocols should be based on the individual needs and characteristics of each school. For example, one school may have large classrooms that allow them to socially distance their students six feet apart. This school might reassess and decide to eliminate their mask mandate in the classrooms. The size of a cafeteria is a similar circumstance, as are the number of classes eating lunch at once and the number of people available to supervise lunchtime. These factors vary from school to school, and they directly affect what COVID protocols are in place. At my school, grade levels eat one at a time. We cannot socially distance students at six feet in our cafeteria, and of course students cannot wear a mask during lunch. Because of these factors, we have students in assigned seats at lunch that we will rotate every quarter. This limits students’ contact and can reduce the number of students who have to quarantine if we have a positive case. This has worked so far, but if problems arise, we will move lunches back to the classroom. If you have not already done so, check to see if your protocols match your needs.
4. Give Everyone a Voice
People are more willing to accept a protocol if they feel their voices have been heard. We had a spike in cases the second week of school and had an emergency school board meeting to evaluate our current protocols. This meeting had a large turn-out from the public, and many people signed up to speak. In the end, nearly everyone who spoke voiced the opinion that we should not reinstate a mask mandate. In the end, the school board reinstated one for students’ safety, but I believe we had less pushback because we were transparent and let the public have a voice in the process.
5. Stay Up-to-Date
Things can change quickly with COVID-19. Cases might spike or go down depending on your location. School leaders need to stay up-to-date on what is happening with the pandemic so they know if protocols need to be adjusted. I recommend signing up for your state’s department of education newsletter. I find lots of useful information in the monthly newsletter from Indiana’s department of education. Also, finding a way to communicate with your local health board is vital. Our school nurse communicates with the local health board weekly, and then updates the administrators in our corporation.
6. Expect Pushback
“You cannot please everyone all the time” is an old cliché. However, it is true. Whenever my school corporation makes changes to our COVID-19 protocols, I receive phone calls and emails protesting the change. My approach is to explain our reasons for whatever the change is and tell the person that I will document the concerns and share them at our weekly administrative meeting.
7. Be Consistent and Patient
Throughout the pandemic, I have spoken to my staff members, and written several times in my blog entries, about how patience is crucial right now. As I mentioned before, my school started the year without a mask mandate and then reinstated one after we had a spike in cases. I encourage my teachers to look for a balance of patience and consistency when it comes to enforcing and following this mandate. Do we remind students if they forget to put their masks on? Yes, we do. But we keep our reminders gentle and avoid reprimanding kids. By exercising patience and being consistent with our expectations, we have been able to create a stable and happy learning environment, even with COVID protocols in place.
8. Model Empathy
My mother was in line at a grocery store last week. Two women in line in front of her were complaining to the clerk about the effect the pandemic has had on our country. One woman spotted my mother wearing a mask and gave a head nod to the other women. Then they both laughed. Was this really necessary? No, it wasn’t any more or less necessary than someone accosting a stranger in public for not wearing a mask in a space where masks aren’t required. My mother lost her mother to COVID-19. She may continue to wear a mask for years to come. I have a teacher on my staff who is claustrophobic and cannot stand to wear a mask. This does not make my teacher a bad person. When you are out in public, you do not know what other people are going through. We should be modeling empathy throughout each day.
Stay healthy, everyone!
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for 18 years. He started as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He completed his bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. Andrew has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. Andrew has worked as a resource room teacher and also has taught in a self-contained classroom for students on the autism spectrum. In 2017, he earned a master’s degree in educational leadership, also from Western Governor’s University. This is Andrew’s first year as a building principal. He is the principal of an elementary school that houses kindergarten through fifth grades. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with this wife and two daughters.
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