Preparing to Go Back To School in the Fall of Coronavirus

In real life, when I'm not a heavy metal musician blogging about personal finance, I'm a school librarian at a public elementary school. (For those who wonder, yes, as a school librarian I am a "real teacher." No, I do not "read books all day.")



At the time of writing this post, staff in my district will return to school in about four weeks; students will return in five. Our start dates for staff and students were both pushed back to accommodate the additional training, hiring, and building logistical changes that need to be made in order to adhere to social distancing requirements.


Yesterday, the district announced that we would be returning to school with a "Tier 1" hybrid model that involves four days of in-person instruction per week and one day of distance learning. We were warned in the email, however, that plans could change between now and the start of the school year.


With all this uncertainty looming, as well as the improbable task of getting children to wear masks and socially distance throughout the school day, it's no wonder that many teachers are worried about the return to school.


I am no exception. Here are some steps I recommend (and that I'm doing myself) to be as prepared as possible.

  • Get a will. My husband and I needed to do this anyways, but now we actually have an appointment with a lawyer. We'll be able get a 30% discount on these legal services as a member of my state teachers union -- if you are a union member, check to see if legal services are included in your benefits and find a participating law office.

  • Sign up for short term disability coverage if it's available through your employer. You can also get it as an individual if your employer doesn't offer a group plan, but you may have to answer some health questions. Already have short term disability? Check in with your insurance company about your benefits and make sure you have an online account ready to go in case you need to file a claim.

  • Build up your emergency fund to cover at least six months worth of living expenses. I know this can't be done overnight -- but you want to be as prepared as possible in case of a long illness or layoff. Increase your savings now; hopefully you won't have to use it and you'll just end up with a steel-clad emergency fund!

Keep in mind there are some federal regulations in place that will help you in case you or someone in your family gets sick:

  • The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees twelve weeks of unpaid leave per year to recover from illness or care for a sick family member. It applies to companies with more than 50 employees (i.e. a school district), but you have to have worked at your current employer for at least 12 months and 1,250 hours.

  • The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) extends paid leave time for eligible employees who can't work due to COVID-19-related reasons, including the need to care for children whose school is closed. Read all about it here. At the moment, this act expires December 31st, 2020; hopefully it will be extended because we all know that coronavirus isn't disappearing when the clock strikes midnight on New Year's.

Now that we've got the logistical stuff out of the way, what about reducing your risk of getting sick in a school setting? I read a long post on Facebook from a nurse who had some advice for teachers; a lot of what she said echoed the precautions that my stepmother was taking as a nurse on a COVID unit. Here are the ideas that stood out to me:

  • Keep your work shoes in the car; change into other shoes before you enter your home.

  • Before you do anything else, get changed and put your work clothes directly into the laundry.

  • In addition to a mask, wear something to protect your eyes -- even fake reading glasses are better than nothing!

That last tip echoes what Dr. Fauci said in a virtual town hall in late July. According to EdWeek.org, Fauci recommended "at minimum, teachers should wear a mask and something to protect their eyes, which are also susceptible areas for virus transmission. That could be goggles or face shields."


School staff, what are you doing to get ready for this school year? If you have already begun, how is the climate so far? Leave a comment to let me know!


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