Returning to School in the Time of COVID-19

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Returning to School in the Time of COVID-19

Only a handful of countries around the world have been able to reopen schools safely. 
And after more than 12 weeks of Virtual School, and no cases of community spread of COVID-19 in the entire country, schools in Vietnam have joined those ranks.

Over nine days, SSIS, and Head of School, Dr. Catriona Moran (pictured above) welcomed back grades 1 - 12 in a staggered start, following clearly outlined government directives. Kindergarten and Early Childhood will soon follow. That means that we will all be reunited on campus, even if just for a short time. What a way to bring closure to the 2019 - 2020 school year!

Before any of our students were allowed back, the Ministry of Health and the Department of Education and Training conducted a thorough inspection of our school, reviewing our protocols and assessing how well we are following their directives.

Throughout this process, we have appreciated the measures that the Vietnamese government has taken to keep its population safe. Despite its population of 97 million, fewer than 300 cases have been reported, and Vietnam has received worldwide recognition for its ability to limit the spread of COVID-19.

SSIS passed the inspection with flying colors; meeting, and even exceeding the safety measures required by the Vietnamese government. So we'd like to share with you, what we are doing to keep our community safe, as we welcome students back.

Before Returning

Although many things remain the same, life on campus, as our students and parents know it, has changed from before the worldwide COVID-19 crisis. And throughout this time, it has been important to provide our community with timely updates.

To explain the new protocols and procedures, and to prepare students and parents what to expect when they arrived back on campus, each principal outlined the changes for their division. For elementary and middle school students, this was done through videos, walking students through the changes.
 And teachers returned to school five days before the students, to make sure that they had a deep understanding of the new protocols and practices.

Health and Safety Approach

SSIS has employed a three-layered health and safety approach. We based the layers on governmental directives, CDC recommendations, and advice from International SOS. This approach is to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to lessen the risk of potential transmission. 
On the first day back on campus, all students were required to attend a 40-minute health and safety training to ensure they understood the new health and safety routines and procedures, and why they were necessary.

Layer 1 - Hand Washing and Disinfecting

Students at every grade level have been taught the proper techniques for handwashing, and we continue to run a video throughout the school that features our head nurse demonstrating the appropriate handwashing techniques. The video is to remind everyone of the importance of effective handwashing.

A student gets his hands sanitized before entering the classroom. 

Before students are allowed to enter a classroom or new space, a teacher disinfects their hands with hand sanitizer. At the end of each class, the tables and desks are disinfected. For additional hygiene measures for the elementary school students, each student has been issued an individual bag of school materials such as erasers, crayons, and pencils, and all carpets have been removed from the classrooms.

A high school student disinfects his desk as he prepares to leave the classroom.

Any equipment used, such as during a science lab, is disinfected when students leave. Additional surfaces are thoroughly disinfected throughout the day by the cleaning staff.

Layer 2 - Masks

According to government directives, masks should be worn in all spaces outside of the classroom. Masks are optional while in the classroom, as schools are expected to strictly enforce social distancing. Students are not expected to wear masks in PE, but contact sports, or any activities that do not allow for social distancing, are no longer allowed.

Each day, students must bring three masks from home. The school supplies students with a plastic ziplock-bag to store their masks in if they choose to remove them in the classroom. Also, each classroom has a back-up supply of masks if students forget to bring a mask, or a student’s mask is soiled or lost.

A first-grader leaves his class to head to a specials class. 

In addition to the health and safety session that all students attended on their first day back, all students have been trained by the school nurse on effective mask usage. A video from the school nurse plays on the school monitors to demonstrate proper techniques for wearing, removing, and disposing of masks. Anyone who does not wear a mask in the required areas is reminded by school personnel to do so. Everyone on campus must wear masks, or they will be asked to leave.

Layer 3 - Social Distancing

At SSIS we have lined the breezeway and hallways with blue dots spaced at 1.5 meters apart, as a visual reminder to keep the distance. Also, a yellow striped tape divides each hall and the breezeway in directional lanes, as a further reminder to stay socially distanced.

Middle school students follow the blue dots as they make their way to the middle school building.

In the classrooms, all desks are spaced 1.5 meters apart, and all student-seating is arranged facing forward to prevent viral droplet spread. In most classrooms, the new set-up has involved completely rethinking the space.

A second-grade classroom in its new configuration.

The Cafeteria

In the cafeteria, seating is marked, and enforced, at 1.5 meters apart. One side of each lunch table is taped off so that students all face one direction. As a result of the new seating set-up, lunchtimes have been modified to accommodate multiple groups of middle and high school students, who eat on a staggered schedule to limit the overall number of students at a given time.

Middle school students in the cafeteria.

The elementary students’ lunches are being delivered to their classrooms, where they eat at their desks. In addition, students may only choose between two set lunches or home lunch, and all snacks are prepared as individual servings.

Entry and Exit Protocols

Temperature Checks

As an added health and safety measure, only essential visitors that have passed a mandatory health screening are allowed on campus. In the mornings, and during pick-up of elementary school students, a thermal scanner monitors everyone entering the campus.

The thermal scanner monitors everyone entering the campus.

If needed, the temperature is verified using a forehead, or ear, thermometer. No one with a temperature of more than 37.8c is allowed on campus. Anyone leaving and reentering campus will be manually checked with a thermometer upon return.

Drop Off and Entry

Except for elementary school parents who are admitted briefly in the afternoon to pick up their children according to a staggered exit routine, no other parents are allowed on campus. Thus, at drop off time parents must leave their children outside of the school’s turnstiles, where the students line up according to the staggered entry schedule. The students’ entry process is carefully structured and supervised to ensure social distancing.


Pick Up and Exit

At pick up time, students are led to the outdoor Plaza, where they wait per grade-level until their grades’ staggered pick-up time. At their child’s designated pick up time, parents enter the Plaza via the outer perimeter to get their child.

Elementary school parents wait to pick-up their children after school.

Health Screening

Any essential visitor needing access to the campus is required to fill out a health screening form, detailing travel and health history. After, they must pass a temperature screening before being allowed on to the campus.


Despite the new rules and restrictions, students are adapting to the new routines after just a few days. However, it is important to recognize that everything is not just “back to normal.” The students have to adapt to a new reality and is vital that their thoughts and feelings are heard and validated in this time of transition. We look forward to sharing more with you on that topic in upcoming stories.

Author: Tanya Olander
Communications Officer


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