Infection Control Guidelines for Upper Secondary Schools

Responsibility and roles

The role of schools in the community

Schools play an essential role in the social and academic development of young people. The Education Act prescribes that young people who have completed lower secondary or a comparable education have the right to an upper secondary education. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Norwegian Constitution  and regulations within the field of education all recognise the importance of schools as an arena for young people’s learning, development and well-being. School staff therefore also play a pivotal role in meeting student needs in a pandemic situation. The outbreak has lasted for a long time now and it is especially important that students are able to attend school during the outbreak and that infection control measures are implemented for students and staff alike.

Responsibility and collaboration

Responsibility of school owner and school management

The school owner is responsible for guaranteeing that the school complies with the applicable regulations at all times .The school owner is also responsible for establishing internal control routines that ensure that the school environment promotes good health, well-being, good social and environmental conditions, as well as prevents illness and injury. Consequently, the school owner is responsible for ensuring that the school implements all necessary infection control measures. It is important that the school owner has a productive relationship with school management with regard to local measures, especially in upper secondary schools, which are attended by students from a large geographic area and different municipalities.

School management is responsible for facilitating good communication and educating staff, students and parents/guardians on the importance of the measures. Additional materials with more detailed information that can be used for the competence development of staff can be found on here.

The school owner and school management are jointly responsible for finding the best solutions on the local level and aspiring to achieve the best possible infection control on the different levels (of measures). This assures students, parents/guardians and staff that infection control protocol is followed.

Involvement and collaboration

Everyone who plays a role in the school must contribute to ensuring the best possible infection control. This applies to students, parents/guardians and staff, including union representatives and safety officers.

School health services and municipal health services

The school nurse has infection control expertise and should be involved in the planning and supervision of the school’s infection control efforts. The municipal health and care services can be consulted if necessary for advice on infection control measures at schools. This is also the organisation responsible for following up on Covid-19 cases and outbreaks at schools and for assessing the level of measures in light of the local infection situation.

Students

Students are important contributors and should be included in the school’s planning efforts, such as through the student council, to ensure the best possible implementation of infection control measures. This can lead to better and more targeted measures and increase motivation in terms of infection control among students, especially at upper secondary schools. Students can also help assess how the school can organise the education in the best possible way on the yellow and red levels. Collaboration between the student council, school and school health services to promote effective infection control measures leads to better compliance. The student council can also encourage students to install the ‘Smittestopp’ (‘Infection Stop’) app on their smartphones. 

Staff

Staff members, represented by the union representatives and safety officers, make an important contribution to ensuring good infection control for students and staff alike. Union representatives should be involved in planning and assessing how schools can organise the education in the best possible way on the yellow and red levels. The safety officers also play a role in preventing infection at schools (see the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority website). It is important to provide all staff with good information.

Home-school cooperation

It is important to engage in productive dialogue with parents/guardians in order to provide them with the necessary information on the measures implemented at the school. This includes providing information tailored to the recipient. It is necessary to promote an understanding of the importance of students attending school and that infection control measures are respected.

Student progress meetings can be conducted on the green and yellow levels in keeping with the regular infection control recommendations. Online meetings are recommended on the red level. All the same, a face-to-face meeting may be necessary. In this case, the regular infection control recommendations should be followed.

Parent-teacher meetings and other gatherings organised by the school are considered public events and must be carried out in line with the applicable recommendations from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and Directorate of Health. The municipality may have implemented stricter rules than the national ones, so the municipal website should always be checked first. If the red level of measures has been implemented, parent-teacher meetings or other large gatherings are advised against. Online meetings are recommended in this case.

Parents/guardians in a risk group can contact their own doctor to assess the need to adapt instruction in order to limit the risk of infection. It is important to engage in productive dialogue with parents/guardians and make every effort to ensure that the interests of the young people are considered, so that the young people can experience as normal a daily routine as possible and continue to attend school.

Infection control measures for staff

The school is a major employer, with employees in a wide range of positions. The workplace environment must be completely safe . It is important that infection control measures for the staff are observed on the same level as measures aimed at students in order to both protect employees and limit the spread of infection. It is the responsibility of the employer to facilitate this. See also the Recommendations for Workplaces (FHI) and guidelines for Workplaces and Home Offices (Hdir).

To prevent infection by the coronavirus, it is important that employers carry out a risk assessment of possible infection risks. This is especially important at workplaces that involve frequent contact with large numbers of people. See the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority website.

Employees must maintain a distance of at least one metre from other employees throughout the workday and in all situations. Particular attention should be paid to common areas and offices, where employees spend longer periods of time. If an employee becomes infected, this will limit the number of employees who can become infected. If the social distancing recommendations and reduced physical encounters are observed, fewer employees will have to quarantine. School management must assess the number of employees who can be present based on the available space.

Infection among employees can lead to a spread of the virus among different classes and grades, resulting in a large outbreak. Schools are therefore encouraged to limit contact between staff members as far as possible. Online meetings are recommended in this case. A home office is recommended for tasks that do not necessarily have to be carried out at the school in municipalities that recommend or require a home office.

The use of assistants, part-time teachers and special staff members may pose a particular challenge because their work involves contact with both students and other staff members in different classes and grades. The same recommendation applies when it is necessary to use substitute teachers or to rearrange staff. To reduce the total number of contacts, a good organisational plan must be prepared.

Risk groups

Certain groups of individuals have an increased risk of serious complications, although the majority of people in risk groups experience only mild symptoms. As we have acquired more knowledge on Covid-19 and risk factors, the recommendations regarding which individuals fall into risk groups have become more detailed (see the Recommendations and Information for Risk Groups).

Staff members who belong to a group with a higher risk of contracting a severe case of Covid-19 should be assessed individually to determine whether adapted or alternative work is appropriate. The employees to which this applies require a medical certificate.

The role of schools in an outbreak and infection tracking

The TISK strategy – testing, isolation of positive cases, contact tracing and quarantine – is most important for reducing the spread of infection. In light of the new virus variants with increased transmission potential, the most recent recommendation is to enhance the

TISK response by means of faster and more extensive testing, infection tracking and quarantine follow-up. Expanded quarantine boundaries can challenge the staffing situation during an outbreak at a school.

The municipal health services are responsible for following up on confirmed cases of Covid-19 (infection tracking) and will warn the school if students or staff are confirmed positive. It is also the health services that determine the necessary measures and define who is a close contact of the sick individual. And it is the municipal health officials who determine the need to raise the level of measures. If necessary, they can seek the advice of the national health authorities.

The school’s contribution is equally as important:

  • The school owner must have a contingency plan. This plan must make it possible for the school to quickly switch between the different levels in the infection control guidelines, while at the same time offering a quality education, regardless of the level of measures. The schools must also have a plan that facilitates social distancing measures, procedures for drop-off and pick-up, and so on. Good planning enables the school owner and the school to implement changes quickly if an outbreak occurs. It may be necessary for some schools to have home schooling for one or two days if the level of measures is raised at short notice.
  • The school can help prepare a list of close contacts at the school. The obligation of confidentiality and privacy requirements must be observed.
  • The health services and school owner must work together to determine who is to inform the various groups (students, parents/guardians, teachers and other employees) and how. It is important to include support staff, substitutes and temporary employees when informing, as well as individuals in other municipalities who are affiliated with the school where an infection has been confirmed.
  • The school must inform the health services if an interpreter is needed.
  • It is important to provide enough information to all those affected, while at the same time observing the obligation of confidentiality and privacy requirements.

Follow-up of vulnerable young people

Schools play a pivotal role in identifying and supporting vulnerable young people. Schools and school owners are also important for establishing effective procedures for collaborating with school health services, the Educational and Psychological Counselling Service (PPT), general practitioners, child welfare services, mental health services, and so on.

Some young people have already been identified as having special needs, while others may require special follow-up as a result of the infection control measures. The infection control measures can lead to social isolation due to fewer recreational activities and fewer opportunities for social contact in the community. Another consequence may be a lack of continuity in the education due to quarantine, isolation or home schooling. This may result in students who have never before experienced challenges losing their assessment basis in a subject and becoming at risk for dropping out of school.

Read more about education for students who are unable to attend school here.

If a school closes or has reduced opening times due to measures prescribed by the Act Relating to the Control of Communicable Diseases/Covid-19 Regulation, the school owner must provide an educational programme for students with special needs who cannot be accommodated in such cases. This may be relevant for students enrolled in special education, for example. There may also be students who cannot be accommodated when the school is closed or has reduced opening or attendance times, such as young people with difficult family situations. It is also important to be attentive to young people who would not usually be vulnerable under normal circumstances. The school owner is responsible for identifying and assessing which students need an adapted programme and for ensuring that the students who are eligible for this actually receive this. This should be part of the school’s planning work. Parents/guardians and students should therefore not have to request or demand such an adapted educational programme.

Good collaboration between municipalities and the county municipalities must be facilitated in order to ensure that the school health services are also available on the green, yellow and red levels in upper secondary schools.

The school owner must ensure that schools:

  • Establish good procedures for collaboration with school health services, the Educational and Psychological Counselling Service, child welfare services and other municipal services in order to gain an overview of which young people require support for health, personal, social or emotional reasons.
  • Prepare plans for how they will ensure that students receive adequate educational opportunities.
  • Establish procedures and collaborate with parents/guardians and relevant services to ensure that students with excessive absences receive the necessary support. This includes students at risk of dropping out of school.
  • Make it possible for the school health services to be available to students on the green, yellow and red levels and that they can easily be reached by students who are not physically at school.
  • Make it possible for students with family members or close relatives in risk groups to have home schooling.

Regular testing/mass testing of students and staff may be necessary in outbreak situations or with high infection rates in the community over time. If possible, the school should assist the municipal health services in the implementation of testing. See Regular testing (FHI).

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