I’m a dad and a community organizer, so it will probably come as no surprise that I’m carefully tracking how my local school district is responding to the threats of COVID-19. With millions of dollars in American Rescue Plan funds available to local school districts, taking steps to make classrooms safer should be a no-brainer. That’s why I’ve been gobsmacked by reports that parents in wealthy districts are paying out of pocket for COVID safety measures, while less affluent schools are doing without.
On Sept. 13 the US Department of Education announced that they had approved the North Carolina plan for spending American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) money. That approval released the remaining $1.2 billion in relief funds to the state.
As a parent, teacher, or public health professional, now is the time to urge your school district to start using these historic funds right away. Here are four ways your school district can act now to reduce COVID risk, improve the school environment, and keep kids safer and healthier at school:
1. Make it easier to eat outside
Mealtime is when students take off masks, increasing the risk of transmission. Allowing children to eat outside dramatically reduces risk, and allows kids to just relax, chat, and enjoy lunch together. Picnic tables, tents, and shelters make outdoor meals comfortable in all sorts of weather. They can also be used to extend learning into the outdoor environment.
2. Purchase air purifiers for classrooms
Filtration units that remove aerosols from the air can reduce the risk of transmission in classrooms. The US EPA states: “When used along with other best practices recommended by CDC and other public health agencies, including social distancing and mask wearing, filtration can be part of a plan to reduce the potential for airborne transmission of COVID-19 indoors.” A group of scientists from the NCSU Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering recently wrote to Wake County Schools leaders urging them to purchase effective air filtration units for classrooms.
3. Upgrade ventilation and HVAC systems
Proper ventilation is another important factor in reducing the risk of COVID transmission at school. Because of chronic funding shortages going into the pandemic, many school districts will need to use significant amounts of ARP ESSER funds for these important and overdue upgrades.
4. Hire & retain more school nurses
School nurses are on the front lines of protecting our children’s physical and mental health. They save school districts money by keeping teachers focused on education, and play a key role in ensuring students are well enough to thrive in the classroom.
The importance of having health personnel in every school building has never been more critical. Yet in some North Carolina school districts, one nurse splits their time among two, three or even five different schools. School districts can use ARP ESSER funds for hiring bonuses, salary supplements, and other techniques to help recruit and retain more school nurses.
Thanks to American Rescue Plan ESSER funds, our schools have the money they need right now to improve facilities and fight the spread of COVID-19.