Back to School? Healthy or Not, Here We Go.

August 3, 2020 Bob Krell

by Susan Valenti

Students in Andover, Mass., barely closed their laptops on the 2019/2020 school year when parent Jessica O’Neill posted a message on a local Facebook group. “Does anyone know a teacher I can hire to teach my children and my friends’ children in the safety of my home?” she asked.  More than 100 people responded to the post in an hour. Not with names of teachers to hire but asking O’Neill if their children could also be taught in her home.

Major media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Bloomberg News have all recently called these phenomena “micro-schools” or “school pods/cohorts.” Different than home schooling, parents nationwide are now looking to hire retired or current K-12 teachers and/or tutors to use the local school district’s expected online curriculum to educate their children. But the key phrase that caught people’s attention in O’Neill’s post was “safety of my home.”

 “I don’t even know what a safe school environment looks like, never mind in a pandemic,” O’Neill said.

She’s not alone. The shear volume of information and guidance on what re-opened schools should look like from a health and safety perspective is an every-day, every-hour story. In order for parents to send their children to school, they must believe schools will not only be safe spaces for their children and teachers but going back to school buildings won’t bring back the COVID-19 virus into their homes.

A picture containing person, indoor, person, table

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Unreecognizable teacher back at school after covid-19 quarantine and lockdown, disinfecting desks at break time.

In CDC re-opening guidance for schools, normal routine cleaning with soap and water will decrease how much of the virus is on surfaces and objects. Disinfection using EPA-approved products for COVID-19 can also help reduce risk. It’s expected that teachers and staff will have to frequently clean surfaces in the classroom throughout the day.

Should you review the guidelines from the CDC? The initial ones from May or the new guidance issued late July 23? Wasn’t the White House going to write their own school guidelines? But wait— each state has its own plan, right? That’s right. In many states, school districts are now creating in-person, online, and hybrid proposals to share with parents, teachers, and staff beginning in August. Yes, that’s still just weeks before the start of the new school year.

And what’s the role of indoor environmental experts in the re-opening of schools? First, some of the foremost indoor air science experts and researchers now frequently appear in mainstream media and news shows. Second, it has increased the visibility of indoor professionals who can help schools and universities make necessary changes to make spaces healthier and safer.

At press time, Dr. Richard Corsi, IAQ expert and dean of Maseeh College of Engineering & Computer Science at Portland State University in Portland, Ore., finalized a checklist of 20 questions on healthy and safe school re-openings that parents, teachers, and staff could ask their school districts and elected officials. The list also includes recommended responses, again from a health and safety perspective, of how school officials should be answering. Corsi teamed with Dr. Joseph Allen, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, and co-author of the recent book, Healthy Buildings, to immediately develop a website for these questions, answers, and the context behind both. You can check it out now at

Read the full article in the July issue of Healthy indoors Magazine now at:

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