Strike Team preps for COVID safety
The Erie County Strike Team has visited 11 schools this summer
Dan Loewenheim looked down at the floor of an Iroquois Elementary School first-grade classroom Friday morning, then made a suggestion to the administrators and teachers gathered around him.
Visiting 10 other Erie County schools in recent weeks has given Loewenheim some perspective on what districts can do to prepare their buildings for class during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You can put down some painter’s tape on the floor at the corners of each desk, so you don’t have to remeasure them 6 feet apart each day after the rooms are cleaned,” said Loewenheim, who is an Erie County emergency management specialist. He has toured schools as a member of the new Erie County Department of Health Strike Team.
The team, which consists of employees from the health department and the Erie County Department of Public Safety, was created specifically to help schools reduce the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks.
“This is a unique combination of departments brought together to help schools prepare,” said Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper, who attended the strike team’s visit to Iroquois Elementary on Friday morning.
Erie County and Iroquois School District officials show off a classroom Friday at Iroquois Elementary School in Lawrence Park Township that has been prepared for safe COVID-19 protocols. From left are: Karen Barringer, the district’s assistant pandemic coordinator; Dan Loewenheim, emergency management specialist with the Erie County Department of Public Safety; Veronica Will, assistant principal of IES; and Jennifer Foutz, principal of IES. [CHRISTOPHER MILLETTE/ERIE TIMES-NEWS]
Each school district in the county was told it could invite the strike team to visit its schools.
The visits are not inspections, and schools are not judged on a pass/fail basis, Loewenheim said.
“We are providing support and assistance to these schools with their reopening plans,” Loewenheim said. “We look at this as a collaboration.”
Loewenheim and other strike team members have found that school personnel have been working hard since spring to get their buildings ready for the resumption of in-person classes.
At Iroquois Elementary School, 4231 Morse St., in Lawrence Park Township, classrooms have been reconfigured to accommodate as many students as possible while desks remain at least six feet apart to promote social distancing.
Colored dots have been placed on cafeteria seats where students are permitted to sit, and Karen Barringer, R.N., the district’s assistant pandemic coordinator, has found a use for a striped pole she found in a corner of the gym office.
“It’s six feet long, so we have been using it to measure things for social distancing,” said Barringer, a former physical education teacher. “At (Iroquois) High School, they are using a pool noodle.”
One issue the team discussed with Iroquois Elementary administrators is what happens if some of the students who begin the year learning online decide to start attending in person.
Some classrooms are already at maximum capacity with the desks six feet apart.
“Seventy-two is our magic number. That’s 18 students in each of four classrooms,” said Veronica Will, Iroquois Elementary’s assistant principal. “If we get more than 72 in person, we open a fifth classroom. We would have the four teachers and (an aide) rotate among the five classrooms.”
Strike Team members have not seen any significant problems at the schools they have visited.
Team member Abigail Mack, who works at the county health department, said administrators and teachers have done a wonderful balancing act in preparing their schools.
“It’s a tough job to make sure the school has a welcoming environment for students while also following safety guidelines,” Mack said.
Contact David Bruce at dbruce@timesnews. com. Follow him on Twitter @ETNBruce.
Classrooms at Iroquois Elementary School like this one have been prepared for safe COVID-19 protocols. The room has only 16 socially distanced desks. The Erie County Department of Health Strike Team helped reconfigure the school’s classrooms.
[CHRISTOPHER MILLETTE/ERIE TIMES-NEWS]