When students start school, they are excited to spend time socializing, making friends, learning new things and creating lifelong memories. The last thing students or their parents should worry about is potentially contracting a deadly virus, but unfortunately, this is the hard truth that many families are facing as their children return to in-person classrooms.

According to Forbes, tens of thousands of students in the U.S. are currently in quarantine. Texas had to close at least four districts just days after the start of the 2021-2022 school year due to a devastating COVID-19 outbreak. There has also been an increase in child COVID-19 hospitalizations. Florida – another hotspot accelerated by the Delta variant – is admitting an average of 56 children a day to hospitals.

Since the onset of the pandemic, schools have been focused primarily on encouraging or requiring the wearing of face masks, social distancing and temperature checks before entering the school. Still, these solutions are not proving to be the comprehensive fix that is needed. Many schools are turning to advanced and updated security management technologies by integrating visitor, volunteer and emergency management software into one platform. This will help them better manage every aspect of school safety, including limiting the spread of COVID-19.

When people hear the phrase "school safety tech," they initially think of software that assists with lockdown procedures typically associated with school shootings. However, as people adapt to the new normal of living during a global health crisis, they realize that school safety now includes tackling COVID-19. By having the right technology in place, schools can meet this viral emergency head-on, reduce the spread of infection and ensure the health and safety of those within the school walls.

To fully reopen schools and get students back in the classroom, the U.S. Department of Education released a Return to School Roadmap to walk districts through the process of providing a safe environment for all staff and students. By leveraging the right technology to ensure students and teachers are safe, school districts can work their way through the roadmap and achieve academic success.

Focus on Health and Safety 

A critical aspect of ensuring the health and safety of students and staff is to focus on visitor management, which starts with screening visitors for exposure. Digital visitor management solutions help schools keep track of screenings. The staff takes visitors’ temperatures before they are allowed in the school, and that information is loaded into the system where it is recorded. Additionally, schools can ask COVID-19-specific questions during the visitor sign-in process, asking them to certify that they are symptom-free and haven't been in close contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or has recently traveled internationally. The visitor management system streamlines this process and gathers detailed data to enable administrators to see screening results, giving them the visibility needed to take appropriate action.

Contact tracing is another crucial strategy to stop COVID-19’s transmission by informing those that may have been exposed so they can monitor their health, get tested and self-isolate. To properly perform COVID-19 contact tracing, the administration needs to know who is walking through their hallways and working with students and when. Outdated visitor management processes, such as handwritten sign-in logs, can fail to capture the data necessary for accurate contact tracing. Further, relying on paper logs to facilitate contact tracing can be extremely cumbersome. A visitor management system tracks every individual and automatically records their contact information and when they were in the school.  These details are available in a downloadable report, giving school admins instant access to the information needed to contact trace effectively and promptly.

Respond to Localized Incidents

The pandemic has caused an increase in violent behavior, especially when it comes to the mask mandates and an increased potential for irate visitors. A robust emergency management solution will equip schools with a panic button system to allow administrators to summon help when faced with a localized incident so school administrators or security personnel can respond to the situation swiftly.

If a violent outburst erupts, a visitor management system can integrate with an existing emergency management system so schools can account for everyone on campus. For example, suppose a visitor checks into the office and becomes angry or even aggressive after being told they must adhere to a temperature check and are asked to wear a face mask. In that case, staff members can use the emergency software to alert first responders of the immediate need for assistance. Depending on the severity of the incident, the emergency system can be deployed to begin a campus-wide evacuation or lockdown. This is when the capability to account for everyone on campus during and following the emergency is critical.

Integrate Technology with Existing Visitor and Volunteer Management Solutions 

Schools have numerous volunteers on site each day, from crossing guards to those on recess duty. It is critical to have an advanced volunteer management system to properly screen volunteers before they step foot on campus and ensure they're screened once they arrive. This includes conducting detailed background checks and health screenings before interacting with any students. Additionally, clear visitor badges are an added component to helping staff and students recognize approved individuals.

Administrators need to ensure the health and safety of the students and staff in their district. These are uncertain and stressful times for young children and adults. By implementing the necessary protocols and health screenings for everyone who steps foot on campus, the world of academia can breathe a little easier, knowing they have the digital support needed to provide students and staff with the promise of a safe place for all.

This article originally ran in Security, a twice-monthly security-focused eNewsletter for security end users, brought to you by Security Magazine. Subscribe here.