Right now, for most of America, the plan is to go back to school while doing our best to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. Nobody knows what to expect, and everyone's looking for guidance.
We’re not health experts, but we’ve learned a lot very quickly by partnering with school districts to create materials that can encourage good behaviors and minimize risk in learning environments. Here are the seven big questions we’ve learned to ask when helping educators determine what materials and signage they need to reopen their schools as safely as possible during the pandemic:
1. How much time will students spend indoors versus outdoors, and how will they enter and exit buildings?
Your facility may institute one-way traffic patterns within your hallways, certain closed areas will likely have strict capacity limits, and moving between closed and open spaces can mean confusion about when to use or not use masks. Remember at each of these transition points, signage will be needed to remind students of the behavior expected in that specific environment. That also includes durable exterior signage positioned at entrances that can withstand light and extreme weather.
2. Who are we communicating with? What special language or cultural tools can we use?
Are your students all native English speakers? Or do they speak a variety of languages? Are they all sighted? Are some of them differently abled? Of course, bilingual or even trilingual signage can be easily achieved. But small cultural differences can mean some signs could accidentally be confusing. Make sure that symbols make sense to everyone, and that everyone has reminders that work for them and their own needs or abilities.
3. How can we best connect with our students and create compliance?
Again, we have to consider the audience. Are we always targeting students, or teachers, or parents as well? Do internal employees or administrators need special messaging or instructions? What age ranges will see your signage? What’s effective for children in elementary school will obviously not be effective for high school students. Are we making sure we’re speak to everyone, where they are and as they are, so that they really understand and can support each other’s safety?
4. Who is allowed in? How do we tell guests what to do and expect?
Your school will likely have a specific list of who is allowed into your facility in order to limit exposure and maintain strict health safety standards. Signage that explicitly states who, what, where, when, and how will be needed in order to ensure compliance and direct guests to the correct access point using the correct protocols.
5. How will we address fixed and closed spaces?
What was previously easily accessible may now become a restricted area, and those returning to these spaces for the first time (and thereafter) will need high-visibility signage to communicate these changes and new rules. Fixed seating that prevents social distancing will need to be addressed, either by removal or by the application of new signage that indicates the correct spacing procedure. Acrylic barriers will also be needed for some tighter spaces to protect teachers or employees while they are sitting or standing in front of numerous different groups of students.
6. Are we staying up to code?
While we want to help create the safest spaces possible for our students and teachers and school employees, we cannot threaten their safety in other ways. Social distancing, signage, and safety materials can take up space and create new footpaths, but ensuring safe egress is critical for fire safety. Even the feet on hardware can cause safety and code issues if they are too large or made from the wrong material.
7. Are we saying it the right way?
Your school system is likely very focused on creating a plan and trying their best to source what they need before the big day. Unfortunately, that means few educators may receive guidance on what to actually say on their signage and materials or how to version those messages for each audience. A good signage partner will be able to help you with the small details and the big picture, so that your Covid-19 materials will get the attention you need, communicate the right way to the right audiences, and create real and consistent compliance in your school.
If your school district is looking for help navigating the uncharted waters of reopening while keeping your staff and students safe, you're not alone! Our team has spent the last few months consulting with school districts and universities across the country, from campus walk-throughs to remote consultation, and we're happy to share what we've learned. Give us a shout and let us know how we can help!