Administrators of private pre-K through 12th-grade schools in California are navigating a minefield when it comes to addressing the myriad of issues associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. All primary and secondary schools in the state, public and private, are on the frontlines – and will remain so positioned – when it comes to preventing, slowing, and hopefully, one day even stopping the spread of COVID-19. In this regard, an issue that must be on the agenda of all private schools in the state is the development of protocols and practices associated with COVID-19 cleaning and disinfection. 

To Open or Not to Open – That Is the Question

As of mid-April 2020, the consensus in California was that public schools across the state were expected to stay closed through the remainder of the academic year. The target became working towards being positioned to open public schools throughout California in the fall of 2020. 

California is home to approximately 12 percent of all students in the United States in primary and secondary school. There are over 6 million students in public schools. In addition, there are approximately a half million students in California private schools.

California does differ from some states that have closed schools through the end of the current school year. California Governor Gavin Newsom has not issued an executive order shuttering schools through the end of this academic year, although he expects public schools are not likely to open this year, according to the Los Angeles Times. Local public school districts are planning and creating distant learning programming with the belief that public schools will not open again until the start of the next academic year in the fall. 

Private schools, at least to some degree, may be in something of a proverbially different boat when it comes to reopening for their pre-K through 12th-grade students. The possibility exists that some private schools may resume operations before the commencement of the next standard academic year in the fall of 2020. For example, different private schools in Southern California may open for limited attendance later this spring or during the summer months. Being generally independent, private schools have a degree of flexibility when it comes to reopening for instruction, even on a limited basis. And, as noted a moment ago, there is no statewide mandate forcing all primary and secondary schools to remain shuttered until the fall. 

Be Prepared: A Long-Used Motto Applies to Private Schools When Planning for Reopening

Private schools do have an overarching responsibility when they do move towards reopening classrooms for instructions, whenever that may happen. Individual private schools need to develop a comprehensive plan to protect against as well as to rapidly remediate against COVID-19 contamination

Private schools of all types, religious and secular, have a legal obligation to take all reasonable steps to keep their students, employees, and visitors safe from harm when in a facility. With COVID-19, this legal mandate requires private schools to take reasonable steps to protect students, teachers, and others from COVID-19 contamination, a state of affairs that potentially could result in the widespread infection of individuals at a facility. Developing a two-prong comprehensive plan to reasonably protect against COVID-19 contamination at schools and other associated facilities includes:

  1. A comprehensive proactive plan to ensure schools are consistently cleaned and sanitized as a means of protecting against the spread of COVID-19
  2. A rapid response plan to obtain professional coronavirus cleaning and disinfection if evidence suggests that a school or other building may have been contaminated. 

In considering a proactive plan to guard against COVID-19 contamination, a school must take reasonable, not perfect, steps to protect the health and wellbeing of students, teachers, and others. A reasonable action plan might involve a well-trained team at a particular school who robustly clean and sanitize surfaces and objects (doorknobs, faucets, etc.) throughout the course of the day. On a regular basis, a private school can engage the services of a COVID-19 cleaning and disinfection company to provide thorough remediation to eradicate any coronavirus contamination on the premises. This type of reasonable tactic keeps the potential risk of COVID-19 infection from contaminated surfaces or objects decently in check. The risk of infection to students, teachers, and others is notably reduced by using this comprehensive strategy that includes professional assistance. 

Team Up in an Era of Social Isolation

While a good many private schools in California are independent, stand-alone operations, they do not need to stay alone. One strategy worth exploring when formulating a comprehensive plan to minimize the risks associated with COVID-19 contamination, is to jointly develop such a scheme in conjunction with neighboring private schools. As is often the case with different types of service providers, a COVID-19 cleaning and disinfection company is apt to make price concessions if it is servicing more than one school, with buildings in relatively close proximity to one another. 

A significant percentage of private schools are religious-affiliated. If that is the case, another kind of joint partnership might make sense in which not only school facilities but those more closely associated with the church itself jointly are part of an agreement for professional COVID-19 cleaning and disinfection services.