One of the most delightful things about pre-COVID life was driving or walking past our local schools. We could see kids rushing to make it through the front doors on time or hear the younger ones squealing with joy on playgrounds. Many of our school buildings still sit idly and quietly by. But last month, Seven Arrows Elementary School in Pacific Palisades was one of more than 70 campuses that the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health allowed to reopen. For an updated list and information, see the public health department’s website.
After two visits to Seven Arrows, the public health department granted the school a waiver to open to students in kindergarten through second grade. These students attend school from 8:15 a.m. to 3 p.m. five days a week, with two cohorts in separate classrooms to maintain social distancing. The school is continuing to conduct youth conditioning camps for all other grades at Simon Meadow, which is managed by the Pallisades-Malibu YMCA.
School officials say it took months to prepare the school for the return of students, teachers and staff. Safety protocols include health screenings every morning, mask wearing, dividing students into cohorts, physically distancing, handwashing, weekly nasal COVID-19 testing and a plan to conduct over 40% of instruction outdoors.
“There was so much that went into our readiness for reopening safely,” says Margarita Pagliai, head of school at Seven Arrows. “Real estate, more staffing, safety resources, remodeling of classrooms, testing, professional development, tech infrastructure expansion, etc. This is not an easy task for any school. The complexities of safely reopening present daily challenges.”
Still, to watch students return to the school made the hard work worthwhile, she says. “The mere presence of our students arriving in carpool, filling our classrooms with the chatter and joy of learning restored so much hope in all of us here at Seven Arrows. Masked, distanced and tested. We will do everything in our power to ensure that our community is safe for every member.”
Pagliai says the school has devised a CDC-influenced response if anyone at the school tests positive for COVID-19. “If there is a positive case, we alert the entire grade but only quarantine the cohort that was exposed as the cohorts are self-contained and have no cross pollination.” she says. “The entire cohort, including the educator, cannot come back until both the 14-day quarantine period is over and a negative test is rendered.”
As more schools apply for reopening, Seven Arrows officials share some additional safety measures they have taken:
- Installing handwashing stations and temperature checkpoints
- Installing Plexiglass installations around the school
- Marking floors to guide students while they transition through the building
- Keeping doors and windows open to increase airflow
- Changing of air filters from Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) 8 to MERV 13 to prevent spread via ducting
- Providing a private exit to the outdoors in every grade
- Removing porous surfaces that cannot be easily disinfected
- Installing lids on toilets and UV lights in the bathrooms
- Adding “contactless” sinks and soap dispensers
- Hiring additional cleaning staff to sanitize the school
- Adding cleaning devices such as electrostatic sprayer and disinfectant foggers
- Providing wipes, gloves, cleaners and hand sanitizer dispensers in each room
While school is a very different place than it was just a few months ago, Pagliai says the social and emotional connections that children and teachers are able to make in person, even with distance, are invaluable.