Our newsletter will bring you news, policy developments, and best practices as we discuss facilities, real estate, and design.
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Welcome to the midyear National Charter School Facility Center newsletter, where we regularly discuss Finance and Real Estate Development (FRED). FRED spent the first half of 2020 focused on pro-charter school facility policies that can be replicated across the country. We’ve spent time showcasing school districts and charter schools that work together to share facilities, pay for facilities, and finance facilities. We’ve also highlighted federal government programs from the USDA and private sector programs, such as impact Investing.
In this edition, however, we’ll focus solely on a major issue every educator is worried about—the safe reopening and occupancy of school buildings in the fall. We’ll take a look at a school and steer you to technical resources (without overwhelming you by including everything but the kitchen—or maybe, washroom—sink).
On reopening schools—and doing it right…
Health safety is an area of common ground for all schools—and we need to find more common ground, especially in light of the continued divisions in our country. Whether these divisions are income-based, because our low-income neighbors are shouldering a greater burden and risk by providing the essential services we all need, or race-based, because our Black and Brown colleagues continue to be victims of violence and struggle to be heard—we need to do more. We can all agree that keeping students and their teachers safe is paramount.
The first question when contemplating how to safely operate school in time of pandemic is, “should we even open them?” As we have seen with this virus, it moves around, creating hotspots, receding, and sometimes reemerging. Thus, every decision will, and should, be local. There are some common guidelines for deciding. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made available an easy to understand chart with three tiers of questions that: (1) can help administrators decide if they are prepared to safely reopen; and (2) contains links that help define the questions, so administrators can be sure they are addressing the crux of each.
All schools will open, eventually. Whether or not it’s your time yet, is for you to decide. There are lessons learned from around the country and around the world. Denmark was the first to reopen. South Korea reopened… and then reclosed. Everyone is looking for a plan.
On having a plan...
Probably the most comprehensive school-based facilities scheme we’ve seen, which includes “a plan A, plan B, plan C, etc.,” is the one developed by the Brooklyn Laboratory School, in conjunction with a handful of top architects and urban planners of various specialties. Brooklyn Lab’s back-to-school toolkit, The Space and Place, runs the gamut. It fleshes out details like, based on time spent in line, how many students should be in each group waiting to pass through temperature taking and hand sanitation stations before entering the school building. That toolkit also addresses giving consideration to temporary structures over sidewalks—to provide shade or shield from rain—and making them welcoming to kids who have anxiety. Determining sidewalk capacity with social distancing, posting wayfinding signage, and potential solutions for multi-story buildings are also addressed. Other sections include new, socially-distant classroom configurations, circulation plans for foot traffic in interior common areas, and examples of equipment to support the new realities of delivering education, not contagion. The Brooklyn Lab toolkit also features links where you can sign up for focus group discussions, fill out surveys, and sign up for updates as the reopened school space evolves. You can learn more about Brooklyn Lab school, in thiswebinar, recorded on June 8. We will host a webinar with them next month—stay tuned for details.
On equipment and technology...
Schools will need new equipment and technology. One equipment topic to pay attention to: ventilation and air filtering. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on various studies that have been done—both domestically and internationally—on the airborne nature of the virus. While much is still uncertain, the studies come to a common conclusion that air quality and circulation is critical when people are inside together for longer than 15 minutes or so. Technology, specifically, property technology (or proptech), can help. This Education Week article offers cost estimates for equipment and renovations schools may need to undertake to safely reopen schools.
The Building Owners and Managers Association International (BOMA) released guidance for emergency evacuations that is useful to schools in particular situations. For example, schools will still need to conduct fire and other safety drills. There may be times when schools need to be evacuated, even if just because a prankster pulls a fire alarm. BOMA helps school leaders have a plan for their buildings under these scenarios.
For a round-up of what state departments of education are advising—from reopening guidelines to toolkits for schools, and a look at reopening facilities news from around the country—check out the National Council on School Facilities’ resources. The page with news stories has some interesting ideas, like the story about a West Virginia district putting its building maintenance personal through specialized cleaning protocol classes this summer.
And finally, for charter schools in the process of acquiring a building, no matter what the phase, from shopping for real estate to completed construction awaiting building fire and building inspector occupancy certifications, The Local Initiatives Support Council’s (LISC) School Print Charter School Project Management offers guidelines for decision-making and strategies as the pandemic keeps the economy on a roller coaster.
Partnering with district schools
We may view our charter school buildings as unique, but they have much in common with district school buildings and even commercial buildings. Many charter schools aligned with districts when determining to close, and some will likely do the same when deciding when to open. In many places, charter schools coordinated with district schools on serving meals to the community, sometimesfillinggaps when traditional schools were unable to meet the need. Parents and students will be best served if we can all coordinate on the protocols for opening buildings.
The Charter School Facility Center is an initiative of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schoolsto create a more equitable landscape for charter school facilities through innovative solutions, improved policies, and building local capacity by training charter school operators. We thank the U.S. Department of Education for initial funding for this effort. For more information, please visit our website or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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