Staying Safe and Sustainable: Back to School Tips from Eco-Schools Qatar
With schools in Qatar reopening this September, Eco-Schools Qatar has listed down a set of recommendations for a safer, healthier and more sustainable school communities.
These recommendations were put together by Eco-Schools Qatar in response to COVID-19, to eliminate the spread of the virus by establishing a culture of health, safety and sustainable responsibility among the local schools community.
These recommendations are based on eco-school themes and on the Green Classroom Professional programme by the Center for Green Schools by US Green Building Council. The recommendations are complementary to the official guidelines set by local authorities.
Managing an Eco-School during the COVID Pandemic
- Assign a leader to plan and disseminate the COVID-19 policies and updates. Engage
the eco-committee to help share the plan between the school administration, teachers, parents, students, and community members. The plan should set policies, train and communicate.
- Create a culture where acts of social appreciation that require physical contact, like hugs, handshakes and high-fives, are replaced with new contactless signals like smiles, waves and thumbs-up.
- Emergency preparedness: Follow the guidelines and models of learning set by the local authorities. Stay connected with school staff and students to monitor symptoms and track absenteeism and have a plan when there is a case.
- Encourage students to adapt the eco-schools’ Seven Steps to Make a Sustainable Home. The pandemic has necessitated that we adapt these seven steps for healthier homes and more sustainable lifestyle. This will make the family at home a sub-committee of the school’s committee and grant more engagement in the eco-schools programme in the future.
- Rethink your chosen eco-school themes and prioritise themes related to the current situation: health and well-being, water sanitation, waste, litter and biodiversity.
- Share your school best practices with Eco-Schools Qatar and Eco-Schools international social media platforms.
Health and Well-Being
- Invest to redesign your classrooms and communal spaces to have direct access to sunlight, green walls and natural materials.
- Promote healthy eating habits and allow only for healthy snacks and lunches to boost the students’ immune system.
- Educate with a risk reduction strategy where schools should ensure that students and staff wear masks and that maximum physical distance is maintained whenever possible as per local authorities recommendations.
- Educate and update students for disease prevention and control.
- Post signs to promote regular hand washing and positive hygiene behaviours and practices.
Minimise to Control Transmission Chains
- Minimise the number of students in a classroom, limit visitors and parent access, go for virtual meeting, spread desks out in the classroom and mark one-way lanes for travel to help facilitate physical distancing.
- Minimise crowding – for example, use different doors for different classes or grades to exit or enter the school to reduce the number of people touching the same doors.
- Stagger arrival and dismissal and class times to avoid student to crowd in corridors, hallways, at doors and outside the buildings.
Indoor Environmental Quality
- Bring more fresh air into the classroom and school building to dilute particles that contain viruses and reduce the risk of breathing enough virus to become infected.
- Consider installing air quality monitors.
- Portable air cleaners with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters may be useful to reduce exposure to viruses emitted from infectious individuals. However, devices have to be the right size for the room and placement should be carefully considered.
- Invest in installing exhaust fans in bathrooms and operate them all the time.
- Increase the level of AC air filters to MERV 13 and maintain as per manufacturer recommendations.
- Instal air purifying plants in classrooms, hallways and other indoor spaces.
- Reconsider your interior finishes by replacing soft surfaces like carpets with easily disinfected interior finishes.
- If limited in space, some schools may remove excess furniture from classrooms to allow for physical distancing policies and to have less items that need cleaning and disinfecting.
- Introduce more natural daylight and redesign the classroom layout to allow students more exposure to natural daylight.
- Consider Circadian lighting to minimise the effect of artificial lights and synchronise with human circadian rhythm to boost immunity system.
School Ground and Transportation
- Consider supporting other safe modes of transportation like walking and biking to reduce reliance on school buses.
- Allow no bus and car idling in the school premises to reduce air pollution to protect respiratory health of students.
- Consider moving activities outdoors or conduct outdoor classrooms. Nature provide a different learning experience and contribute positively to mental and physical health.
- Enhance your school ground by planting more trees to purify air, provide shade and
accommodate more outdoor activities.
- Washing hands is an easy and effective way to reduce transmission. All students and staff should be trained in proper hand washing/sanitising procedures, and signage should be placed at sinks to reinforce appropriate hand-washing technique and duration. And here comes the importance of installing water efficient faucets!
- Remind students to stay hydrated and to use only their personnel water bottles.
- Keep a close eye on water leakages and drips to avoid mold build up as they have direct negative impact on the respiratory system.
Cleaning and Maintenance
- A very important part of the reopening plan is to set cleaning procedures for daily used items like classroom desks, tables and chairs. In addition to shared spaces with multiple times use per day like door handles, light switches, handrails, drinking fountains, sink handles, restroom surfaces, cafeteria surfaces, and elevator buttons and also some items between uses like: toys, games, art supplies, instructional materials, keyboards, phones, printers, copy machines and seats on bus.
- Use green cleaning products for regular cleaning of water dispensers and focus on bathroom hygiene. Green products are free of irritants and toxic chemicals that are related to both long- and short-term health risks. Look for ecolabels and read product labels.
- Cleaning products can pollute the air, so deep cleaning should be done outside of normal school hours and care should be taken to open windows or maintain high ventilation rates to protect staff and students.
- Use green and environment-friendly stationery and materials as they contain no toxic materials, no odor and are low in VOC. Look for the Material Safety Data Sheet.
- Distribute hand sanitiser or portable hand washing stations throughout the school. At least 60% alcohol is an effective alternative when handwashing is unavailable.
- Reduce the number of shared objects. Frequent cleaning, particularly of high-touch surfaces, can help prevent this type of transmission but schools should use products approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.
- OUTDOOR CLASSROOM!
- Invest in touchless technology, open door, lights, hand sanitiser, paper towels
- Plan for hybrid, blended education system
- Consider plexiglass shields to prevent the spread of virus present in large droplets. These barriers may be particularly useful when physical distancing is hard to maintain and in areas where there are repeated and fixed interactions, such as reception desks and cafeteria cashier.