The Future of PPE: Schools Are Tapping Federal Funds to Keep Kids Safe
Hours of screen time and frustration over connecting virtually replaced important socialization and interaction between students and educators over the last 11 months as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The consensus after this grand learning experiment is: get kids back to in-person learning. While teachers, parents, and students alike long to be back in the classroom, to do so requires an environment that is safer for all, especially with the rise of new coronavirus variants.
Team IDD was fortunate to work with school districts across our metropolitan area and region in the summer and fall of 2020 to get personal protective equipment (PPE) into schools. With more federal funds available in 2021 to ensure schools have the supplies needed to reopen safely, our team is ready to collaborate to develop the right PPE solutions for schools—whether starting from scratch or filling in remaining gaps. Read on for the "411" on the recent allocation of funds from the federal government.
The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplement Appropriations Act
This package, passed in December 2020 for $900 billion in COVID-19 relief, provides $82 billion for education. There is $54.3 billion allocated for K-12 schools. Title 1 is the vehicle for funding, which is about four times the amount of what schools received in the CARES Act approved in March 2020. About $22.7 billion of the new money allocation goes to higher education, and $1.7 billion to help minority-serving institutions. Four billion is for governments to spend using their discretion, and private schools receive $2.7 billion. The bulk of the money for K-12 schools goes directly to the school district and is based on their Title 1 proportion in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.
How Schools Can Spend the Money
Like the first round of COVID-19 relief, the December measure allows for a broad range of dollars to stabilize schools. Districts can use this money for any activity authorized under federal laws for education, including helping homeless students or those with disabilities. The measure explicitly mentions PPE, including training staff on properly using shields, cleaning and sanitizing schools, and purchasing protective equipment and supplies needed to disinfect schools.
A Changing Landscape
Even with the new vaccines, it will be some time before herd immunity (70-80% of the population) makes it possible to take down our guard. The new variants of coronavirus circulating may make it even more critical for schools to install PPE as an added social distancing safety measure beyond wearing masks. Schools need to develop a process to determine what type of PPE needs to be used by school staff when working with students and under other circumstances.
Different factors determine the type of PPE required, including the service provided (e.g., behavioral support or instruction), the anticipated exposure risk, and staff and students' health factors. Cleaning and properly maintaining PPE is also a must. Acrylic-based barriers need to be cared for without ammonia-based solutions. Check out our infographic to clear up any misinformation on cleaning PPE.
Barriers are appropriate in shared spaces, cafeterias, classrooms, and administrative areas to promote distancing between students, visitors, and school staff. When face-to-face conversations are necessary, barriers can help ensure interactions happen at a safe distance.
Future Federal Funds for PPE
President Biden has another proposal that puts an additional $130 billion toward K-12 schools and $35 billion for higher education. The proposed funding focuses on helping schools reopen, and the uses are also quite broad. In January, House Democrats also released three separate bills that provide more to support schools. These proposals came as states were doling out funds from the December relief package to their schools.
As K-12 schools and institutes of higher education determine the PPE they need to reopen more safely, IDD is working with its trusted supply chain to ensure stock material is available to manufacture desk, rolling, and hanging barriers. We learned a lot in 2020 about how to efficiently and effectively design, manufacture, and deliver PPE solutions to help keep teachers, administrators, and students safer as they provide in-person learning. Let's collaborate!