Child Health and Safety Guide for Teachers, Nurses and School Staff
School can be a place of learning and growing, but it can also be one of the number one places for children to share and spread illnesses. There are also risks posed during lunchtime for children with allergies. These can lead to absences, which may impact a child’s education over time as well as making the process of teaching more difficult. Luckily, some steps can be taken to make school a healthier and safer place to be. We can also children’s immune systems and health through exercise and nutrition at school.
Over two-thirds of school children miss school annually in the United States due to illness or injury.
Each year, there are approximately 52.2 million cases of the common cold in children under the age of seventeen.
Teachers get sick too. In fact, teacher absences from illness are approximately 5.3 days a year, which is more than the 4.5 days a year that students use.
Some strains of bacteria, such as E. coli and salmonella, can live on surfaces that we touch, such as doorknobs, for up to two hours.
Rotavirus can be transferred from a dry, smooth surface for up to twenty minutes after that surface has been contaminated.
In America, 5.6 million children under the age of 18 have food allergies. That is approximately one in every thirteen children, meaning that just about every classroom in the country will have at least one child with allergies.
- Healthy Schools, Healthy People: Statistics
- Food Allergy Research and Education: Facts and statistics
- US Department of Education: Chronic absenteeism in the nation’s schools
Common School Illnesses
There are several illnesses that can be passed through the air and by sharing and touching objects such as trays, door knobs, and even flat and dry surfaces such as tables and desks. Some of the most common illnesses to go through schools include the common cold, influenza, strep throat, gastroenteritis (stomach flu), mononucleosis, hand-foot-and-mouth disease, ear infections, and conjunctivitis (pinkeye). Head lice are also known to find their way around in the school environment.
Teachers, nurses, and other school staff can all do their part by encouraging student hygiene as well as ensuring that their individual parts of the school are being kept as germ-free as possible.
- Medscape: 15 back to school illnesses you should know
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Diseases and conditions
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Health problems at school
Basic Hygiene Guide for Kids and Adults
Reducing the spread of viruses can be done by frequent handwashing by everyone, as well as by not sharing items. Teachers have a great opportunity to include these tips in classroom rules as well as within health, or even science, lessons. Learning about what viruses and bacteria look like and how they spread can make the lesson come to life for many students.
Also, wiping down classroom, cafeteria, medical, sports, and play equipment and surfaces with an antibacterial cleaner or disinfectant will further reduce the risk of the spread of illness. Airing out classrooms can further limit the number of germs in the air.
In addition, make sure that all trays, utensils, and other items used for eating, serving food, and cooking are all cleaned with water hot enough to reduce the spread of illness. Keep individual student items in separate cubbies, lockers, or containers, rather than hung close together. This may also help to reduce the spread of illnesses and lice further.
- Kendall College at National Louis University: Hygiene habits for kids to reinforce in the classroom
- Texas A&M University: How to avoid back-to-school germs
Reducing the risk of transmitting viruses and bacteria is not the only thing that can be done to make sure that students stay healthy throughout the year. We can also make a positive impact on the amount of exercise students are getting as well as making sure that their nutritional needs are being met during school hours. With obesity – along with the health risks that come with it - becoming an increasing problem among young adults, this is becoming more pertinent.
Physical education is a great class in which to implement a healthy exercise routine, teach proper stretching and movement to avoid injuries, and foster participation. After-school programs and sports also offer additional opportunities for physical activity. Even classroom teachers may be able to incorporate some short breaks for movement into their students’ daily routine.
Nutrition is another important aspect that can help to support the health of students. Consider school policies that limit unhealthy foods and snacks, including those brought from home as well as what is served in the cafeteria. Take a close look at what is being served at lunchtime and see if there are any areas in which improvements can be made.
Incorporate lessons that teach about healthy eating and that offer suggestions and ideas that students and their parents can implement at home. School nurses may also want to send students home with health information, advice, and recipes.
- Child Trends: School-Based Cardiovascular Exercise and Nutrition Program with Parent Participation
- Oregon State University: Childhood nutrition and exercise in elementary schools: An assessment
- University of California, Los Angeles: After-school exercise and nutrition programs can help reduce childhood obesity
- Harvard University: Why school meals matter
- Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: School-aged child nutrition
Severe food allergies can quickly become life-threatening. Make sure that cafeteria staff, the school nurse, teachers, and the main office are all made aware of allergies for each student. This information should be kept accessible and easy to reference, especially for cafeteria staff.
In addition, be aware that with severe allergies, even touching a contaminated surface may result in a reaction. Because of this, you may want to consider banning sharing of foods, or in some cases, banning bringing certain foods, such as peanuts, to school. Another option includes making sure that there are allergy-friendly seating areas for meals.
Have an emergency plan in place in case of an allergic reaction.
- KidsHealth: Going to school with food allergies
- Kids With Food Allergies: Ten school planning tips for when your child has food allergies
- National Peanut Board: How to be fearless about food allergies in schools
Are you still looking for ways to stay healthy this school year? A Healthier Michigan has a great guide: 6 easy ways to stay germ-free. Loma Linda University Health also has advice that teachers and staff may find useful: 5 ways to stay germ-free at home and work.