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Using the bathroom at school may become logistical nightmare under COVID-19 rules

Manteca Unified has more than 24,000 students.

Once school starts, each student will be subject to COVID-19 protocols. Those protocols will be designed as practical as possible within the parameters established by the school board.

The first will be having their temperatures checked.

It is not clear how this will be done. It’s one of the endless COVID-19 details that need to be worked out and implemented by Aug. 6.

The district has indicated they might take the form of daily self-temperature checks.

The daunting task to reopen Manteca Unified schools to in-class learning is hard for most of us to grasp. While the district will have to adhere to whatever standards state and county health officers dictate, it is highly unlikely self-temperature checks will work. The reasons why range from whether all students would have access to a thermometer device and if they actually take it to whether they may fudge and say they don’t have a temperature so they can go to school.

That is why the odds are great schools will need to take daily temperatures.

This will clearly make students simply being able to get onto campus a Herculean task.

Some campuses such as Manteca High have multiple entry points. They will need to block access to all but a few or have staff manned with thermometers at each entrance.

You might argue that temperatures should be taken before they enter their first class. By then, however, they will have been intermingling with other students and faculty.

Should the decision by health officials be to have temperatures taken before entering a school campus, it would need to be done at an entrance. Given social distancing rules would be in effect with 6 feet between students when lines start forming at gates, it would likely require a least 15 seconds per student to use a scanner type thermometer. Every minute a person can take the temperature of four students. In a half an hour, that’s 120 students. A typical district high school has 1,500 students. That means to get the entire student body onto campus during a 30-minute period there would need to have 13 people constantly taking the temperatures of students.

Once they pass the thermometer check, the real challenges will start.

Virtually no routine aspect of school from going to the bathroom and walking down hallways to what takes place in the classroom will go unaltered.

The district has indicated bathroom monitoring will be needed to avoid overcrowding. That’s just the start of it. Every other stall could likely need to be closed. Perhaps one every third or fourth urinal in a row can be used.

Some guidelines being imposed on organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club by the Centers for Disease Control requires stalls and urinals — presumably just touching points such as handles to flush or to open doors — to be sanitized after every use.

The act of simply going to the bathroom could mean the time between classes may need to be stretched.

There is also the question of staffing bathroom monitoring positions. Schools certainly couldn’t simply pull all yard supervisors and campus monitors from other assigned tasks. If they did no one would be available to enforce non-COVID-19 safety protocols on playgrounds or to make sure no one wanders onto campus.

Also how does the district assure that bathroom occupancy limits are enforced between classes given the capacity of restrooms during class breaks could be cut by at least 60 percent without even factoring the possibility of sanitizing handles after each use. That means more kids could be going to the bathroom while classes are in session. To monitor occupancy does that mean schools would have to lock all but a handful of bathrooms during class and them station monitors outside them as well?

Kids getting a simple drink of water could become a logistical nightmare given the use of all drinking water fountains would be suspended.

The district indicated one solution is to encourage the use of re-useable water bottles. But that creates other issues. Not all students may be able to pay for their own re-useable water bottles. How will students be able to refill those water bottles on campus? And if students forget to bring their water bottle, how will they get water? Will the school have bottled water available? That would become another cost as once drinking fountains are shut off schools certainly can’t charge for bottled water.

Issues of student behavior while outside the classroom but still on campus that will get caught in social distancing protocols.

PDAs — personal displays of affection — are not allowed but they happen and are somewhat tolerated. That runs the gamut from holding hands to kissing. In a world where you are required to make going to the bathroom a major undertaking to err on the side of caution, how can one not clamp down on PDAs to an aggressive non-tolerance level meaning school staff needs or aggressively look for it and not simply debate whether to react to it or ignore it if they inadvertently come across a PDA taking place.

That is just four items on a laundry list of hundreds that Manteca Unified educators need to address and put in place within 49 days. You will notice not one of them is tied into the actual act of teaching.

The district needs to implement “reasonable” social distancing requirements that will be required in the classroom and protect not just students but teachers and staff as well.

If 20 percent of all students opted to learn via the new Manteca Unified Online Academy starting Aug. 1 and it was even across every one of the classrooms across the district that means a typical classroom would be left with 24 to 26 students.

Using 6-foot social distancing as the standard, every student would require a desk with a buffer zone of 36 square feet except for those where a desk is pushed against the wall.

A typical classroom of 960 square feet would allow for 27 students without a teacher’s desk and other furniture. Factor in a teacher’s desk and bookcases and such and you will likely have room for 24 students under social distancing rules.

Keep in mind whatever format is decided upon in each room the district is going to have to spend a small fortune on duct tape to make sure things stay where they are supposed to in order to achieve proper social distancing.

Keep in mind this is simply a look at the challenges as the district is working on the solutions. It does, however, reflect a sliver of the challenges they must deal with.

You may not like the decision the school board had to make. There are too many challenges and too short of a time to implement solutions for us to argue whether to revisit the dual options being offered to parents and students for the 2020-2021 school year. If you don’t like what model the modified in-class option with “reasonable social distancing” protocols in place you can always opt for the online academy option.