School staff should follow any state and local guidelines for reopening schools.
Considerations for audiologists and SLPs who work in schools to follow:
- Procedures for monitoring the health of staff and students as well as that of others who enter the building will be important for virus detection. Staff and families need to know about health monitoring efforts and protocol.
- Students’ ability to see the clinician’s mouth and facial expressions is important when providing audiology and speech-language pathology services. Given the proximity of clinicians and students when services are provided, PPE will be needed to reduce virus transmission. It is recommended that administrators provide school-based professionals with appropriate PPE such as desktop plexiglass screens, gloves, clear face masks, and eye protection.
- The CDC recommends working with the same group of students on a regular basis to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19. Because audiologists and SLPs work with different students throughout the week and may travel to multiple schools to provide services, they may be at greater risk. The CDC recommends the provision of telework as an option.
- Use of assistants and/or interpreters may be required, at times. To the maximum extent feasible, you should use the same support personnel to minimize risk. Brief all personnel in the room on safety protocols prior to sessions. The CDC does permit allowances for students who require personal assistants for day-to-day activities; however, these assistants must follow CDC-recommended standard safety protocols with other individuals.
- Cleaning and disinfecting work spaces between each session is a way to protect yourself and your students from transmission of the virus. According to the CDC, cleaning and promoting hand hygiene are important everyday actions that schools can take to slow the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases and protect students and staff. It is not unusual for students to share "high-touch materials" and devices in special education programs, especially when students are in groups and the materials/devices are key to facilitating achievement of therapy targets. For this reason, disinfecting therapy tools and devices between uses is very important but does require time that will impact individualized education program (IEP) therapy minutes for each subsequent student or group of students because therapy sessions are often back-to-back with limited time for transitions.
- Discuss student service delivery models. You may find that you can more safely deliver services using a different model. Considerations may include
- students’ ability to maintain proper physical distance and proper use of safety masks;
- students’ identified communication impairment and potential benefits to in-person services versus telepractice; and
- IEP goals and subsequent indicators for success in group versus individual services.
- Allowances for personal and public safety may require modification to existing IEP recommendations. The IEP team should consider how to balance safety and achievement of IEP goals in a least restrictive environment (LRE). They may need to recommend changes to the setting and service delivery methods to ensure student and staff safety.
- Discuss students’ disorders or diagnoses. Student-specific characteristics or needs may require different types of services—and even some changes to the IEPs.
- Establish a process for immediate hand washing or the use of hand sanitizers prior to entering the speech room. Although you can use hand sanitizer, hand washing is the preferred method, if it is physically available.
- Provide services in a well-ventilated area to reduce the likelihood of spread, as some studies are indicating that poor ventilation may contribute to the spread of coronavirus.