Making schools safe in 2020
As we find ourselves in Back to School mode again, we have all begun to question what this year will mean for the students and teachers who are donning face masks along with school bags
before they walk into their buildings.
There’s no denying that the school year will be anything but normal in 2020. Teachers have found themselves in situations similar to that of nurses in March, but without the prestige that comes along with the title. With school funding at an all-time low and with no clear direction from federal or state governments, school districts have found the task of creating concrete plans in the face of a potential second wave incredibly difficult. As Designers, we know that there are many opportunities for design to create safe spaces for occupants. We have developed health and wellness design solutions for users in residential,
commercial, and retail spaces for years. So why is it that Educational Design has been so behind on this “trend” and that we are only seeing it come to light now?
COVID-19 has spotlighted many weak points in our society & lives over the past six months. But none has been as glaring as the lack of public health-centered design currently facing our teachers and students. When a 2 oz. bottle of off-brand hand sanitizer was the only COVID-19 precaution provided to teachers as they reenter the classroom; we have to ask ourselves –what can we do to make schools safer in this COVID-19 world?
A 2 oz. bottle of hand sanitizer isn’t going to cut it. After interviewing several teachers to understand their perspective, their current situations, and what they desire to see change, I’ve compiled a dream list of ways Interior Design solutions that are readily available could be used in educational settings. Many of the teachers I spoke to were shocked that these solutions existed since their school districts considered none of them as viable options.
Some of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to make schools safer are the same things that many public spaces like retail have already implemented. Providing permanent hand sanitizer stations throughout a school building is an easy thing to do, and many schools already have a few of these. Hand sanitizer stations can be branded with school colors and/or mascots to incorporate them into the natural school setting, and could easily be accompanied with mask stations, where anyone could come and pick up a fresh, disposable mask in case something happens to their own. In younger schools, sinks can be installed in classrooms (many are already equipped with one) and should be accompanied by antiviral soap and paper towels. These sinks– equipped properly — will help encourage good hygiene and germ awareness from a young age.
Along the lines of encouraging personal hygiene, schools could also provide mask sanitation containers that utilize UV light technology. These containers could be used by all students and faculty to sanitize their masks during lunchtime, or during“mask breaks” that some schools have implemented. Making one-way lanes in hallways/corridors with dividers between traffic can also be quite effective in reducing contact between those
moving around in school buildings between periods or classes.
On a larger scale, many new technologies could be added to educational settings to make the buildings a cleaner and healthier place to spend the day in. Antibacterial handle sleeves could be easily applied to all door handles, faucets, and other high-touch areas. When exposed to light, these sleeves undergo an oxidation process, which breaks down germs so that they’re not spread to every individual that touches these surfaces. Water fountains (many of which are already outdated) should be replaced with touch-less copper fountains. Copper is an alloy metal, which means it’s naturally antimicrobial. That, along with touch-less bottle filling stations, significantly decreases germs spreading while keeping students & staff hydrated. Temperature screening stations can also be set up at all entrances to school buildings, to ensure that all who enter are healthy. In the event that someone comes down with COVID-19 symptoms while in the building, a Quarantine Room could become a designated waiting area until the symptomatic individual is picked up. These rooms can then be easily sanitized, with the reassurance that the germs were reasonably contained.
While not all schools have the budget for significant changes to their building infrastructure, such changes could have major impacts on keeping students and faculty safe and healthy.
Air filtration systems in school buildings can and should be replaced in favor of HEPA filters, which heavily filter recirculated air in the building. At a minimum, if schools can’t revamp their filter systems, they should be cleaning them and replacing filters regularly. Restrooms — a hot place for germs to spread — should have indigo LED lights installed within. These occupancy lights come on when no one is in the restroom (mainly during evening hours), and the light emitted kills bacteria. These lights could significantly aid school cleaners in ensuring that all bacteria in bathrooms are regularly cleaned out. All rugs should also be removed from school buildings for a cleaner environment. Floors should be replaced as needed with poreless surfaces that can be easily cleaned with a bleach-based solution. Antiviral sealants can also be applied to floors as an extra precaution against the spread of germs. Lastly, more plant life should be introduced into educational spaces. Plants help to naturally filter indoor air that’s recirculated and good for our mental health, which contributes to our immune systems. Whether it’s a few more potted plants in each classroom or the installation of indoor living walls, the introduction of plant life indoors has been shown to impact human well-being significantly.
Now, as we look at the vast array of Design solutions available during these uncertain times, I challenge you to consider how you can begin to help implement these changes in your local districts. How are you taking your Interior Design expertise and making sure your teachers and children stay safe this school year?