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  • Audrey Hametner

Are you ready to re-open the doors of your school in the fall of 2020?

As school administrations globally begin to plan for the re-opening of their institutions, there are many considerations being hotly debated, namely how to deliver the right mix of a blended services using the right mix of social distancing and technology. For school operations, this is just the tip of the issue iceberg.

Questions we should be asking:

· How do we deliver the right mix of safety and security to facilitate the now, as well as the ever-changing requirements that will surface, to support teaching and learning seamlessly?

· Will the integration of new requirements violate the rules of the individual school?

· How do we communicate the changes to the sheer number of people working in our teams, in an effective and efficient way?

· How do we communicate quickly and efficiently with other departments such as finance, as issues like increasing costs flare up?

The operational leadership team have many considerations to take into account. It isn’t enough for them to be aware of the new local government guidelines for the safety of its students. For each school, the implementation and management of those guidelines will be different. As an example, as auditoriums and canteens are repurposed to provide more space for social distance classrooms, questions start to surface, like “how are we going to keep the space clean and sanitized on a regular basis?” The consideration for the “how”, and the “what is needed to be done” is equally important.

One example is in the F&B operations, where questions are rising about where the students eat will eat:

· Will packed lunches be a requirement?

· What about contracts with F&B vendors?

· Alternatively, can canteen staff sufficiently prepare meals for students if dining halls are being used for classes?

· How will F&B be managed to ensure that other sanitary issues do not come into play?

As we are all gaining familiarity with the variety of new health considerations being introduced, as with any crisis management situation, there is a significant risk that implementing new measures may inadvertently violate existing regulations designed to keep the school safe. One example of such considerations is the requirement for private schools in Dubai to not have male staff come into contact with early years students. This simple requirement, mixed with the need for increased facilities staff for the provision of more rotations for cleaning and sanitizing, is going to require the hiring of more female cleaners. If a school outsources this task to a third party, there has to be sufficient contractual discussions now, to ensure the demand for this can be met.

Another consideration is with the school health departments. Currently, there are ratios of how many students need to be on campus before a doctor is required to be in campus, however, there is a quota of nurses to student ratio. With an ongoing pandemic, what are the new guidelines?

Hot on everyone’s mind - monitoring the temperature of students (and staff):

· How tightly should the enforcement of the temperature rule be applied (each child must stay home from school if they have a temperature exceeding 38C, for more than 24hrs)? Or will this rule change?

· How is this going to managed? Does the security team take the temperature upon entrance?

· What about the transportation team of children who use the bus system, and safety of these children? Does the bus supervisor take their temperature before they get on the bus?

· What if a high temperature a symptom of playing, as is so common in children, especially when coming in from outdoors?

· Will the school have the facilities to ‘hold’ the children in a safe location for a prescribed timeframe, to then re-check the temperature before calling parents to pick them up? Where and for how long?

As you can imagine, these considerations are only the start. Operations personnel must interweave these new requirements into the old way of doing things, and ensure that the academic focus is not disrupted. But how?

All staff on the ground require guidance, they require clarity and they need to work as a well-oiled machine if the school is going to succeed.

This summer, schools around the world are planning and envisioning how to pull this together, yet are they documenting the new processes well? It’s one thing to spend countless hours planning for the risks and developing the right registers, and scenario planning for best and worst-case scenarios, however, it’s just as important to capture and document the changes.

Ask yourself:

· What is the governance in place that will ensure each employee in the chain of command understand their part in the fight, and can operate with little to no additional supervision?

· How will school boards manage this in the short, medium, and long-term?

No one knows what the authorities will expect when they resume inspections in the fall. There will be increased scrutiny, not just from nervous parents, who are anxious that their children have a social element to their education and are trying to balance health with physical safety, but also from the government entities that will be called to task, if re-opening the schools creates a second or third wave. At the same time, with increased focus on health and safety, schools will be expected to have planned and properly implemented the new requirements, and seamlessly integrated it into the existing considerations.

The issues are complex, and operations personnel need to consider each individually and in detail. Each school campus may have the same departments, yet may implement their procedures in a uniquely different way. The myriad of backend departments involved in managing the impact of COVID-19, such as soft services, Facilities, Insurance, Health & Safety, IT, F&B, Transportation, etc. will take a large amount of time and scope to get right.

In the end, it’s all about providing the right environment to keep children and staff safe, to allow the academic staff to deliver their unique blend of teaching and learning and evaluations that will help students grow, at the same time as supporting family payments, and ensuring that authorities are happy with the level of service provided.

Are you ready to re-open your school in the fall of 2020?

At THG Advisory, we are advising schools across the UAE on these issues right now. No one wants to be caught off guard. Each member of each team needs to know what to do, when to do it, and be accountable enough to help leadership respond well to the changes we know will happen. Make sure you have the right structures and reporting in place now to protect your school later. Contact us to find out how.

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