Over the past few months, you’ve probably been focused on safety in the classrooms and common areas of your school, but one area that may have fallen to the wayside is your school store. While the rules and guidelines you’ve established for the rest of the building certainly apply here as well, there are some special considerations to take into account.
Different Types of Stores Have Different Needs
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of running a school store safely during the pandemic, it’s important to note that different types of school stores will have different requirements for sanitary operation.
Some school stores are so small that students don’t have the ability to browse—supplies are stocked in the back and a cashier sits or stands at a counter or window and hands students the supplies they request. While this type of setup is safer in some regards because students aren’t handling items, it presents challenges when it comes to keeping cashiers and students a safe distance apart.
Other schools have the space for a more traditional retail set-up, with shelves and displays, allowing students to look at and handle a variety of items and choose what they’d like. Here, many of the same protocols being used by retail stores to keep staff and customers safe can be implemented.
We know that if you work in a school, you’re familiar with the guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19 in classrooms. Your staff and students are already wearing cloth face coverings, washing their hands regularly, and staying home when they have symptoms of respiratory illness, so we won’t reiterate any of these tips. The recommendations below are specific to school stores; they are based on guidelines from OSHA, the National Retail Federation (NRF), the CDC, and the EPA.
Use Appointment Times to Limit the Number of Students in the Store
Some small retailers and boutiques have implemented appointment systems for shoppers in order to limit the number of people in a store at once and prevent lines and long wait times. This is a model that works well for school stores.
To limit contact between students from different classrooms, consider having a school store schedule—each class has a set time every week in which students who need or want supplies can visit the store. Alternatively, students can make individual appointments for themselves, reserving 10-minute time slots to visit the store and purchase what they need. When a store is too small to accommodate more than one visitor at a time, this type of arrangement is ideal.
Put Visual Reminders on the Floor for Social Distancing
We’ve all had the experience of waiting in line at the DMV or grocery store during the pandemic and noticing that no one is leaving the recommended six feet of space between themselves and the next person in line. If adults can’t get it right, we certainly can’t expect kids to remember!
Purchase vinyl decals to place on the floor as a visual reminder for social distancing where students stand in line to pay for their items or to enter the school store. Signs can be placed throughout the store as well, but it’s likely that the staff who run the store will need to be prepared to issue verbal reminders as well. While this likely won’t be a problem for adults, if you have students working in your school store, they may need some coaching to help them have the confidence to remind their peers that they need to abide by the rules.
Consider Changing Your Store Set-Up
If you have a traditional retail set-up, high-touch areas will need to be sanitized regularly. This can create a great deal of additional work for school store staff, particularly in a highly-trafficked school store. It may simply be best to switch to a different model for your store.
One option is to allow students to visit the store, let the cashier know the items they want, and have the cashier take the items off the shelf rather than allowing students open access to the shelves.
Another idea that many schools have implemented is an ordering system—students can fill out a form and include their payment, then the school supplies they need are delivered to them right in their classroom. If your school store is run by a team of students, they can have fun designing weekly school store newsletters and order forms to highlight different items and increase sales. This also allows students the opportunity to learn the importance of innovation and resilience when it comes to running a business!
Install Clear Plastic Barriers at Check Out
Plexiglass barriers have become standard at retail stores across the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic and they’re a good idea for your school store, too. There’s no need to invest in an expensive, permanent plastic barrier—you can purchase standalone barriers that can be set right onto a counter or table and moved as needed. Make sure there’s a pass-through at the bottom of the barrier to allow for the exchange of money and plan on sanitizing the barrier often with an EPA-approved disinfectant.
Supply Staff With Gloves or Hand Sanitizer
If your school store has the ability to take non-cash payments, this is the best option, but because an online payment system can be difficult for a school to implement and students generally don’t have their own debit and credit cards, the safest alternative is to give your cashiers disposable gloves to wear during each shift for handling cash.
When gloves aren’t an option—it can be difficult to find ones small enough for students and latex allergies might present an issue as well—make sure your cashiers are equipped with hand sanitizer to use after each transaction and schedule regular breaks for more thorough hand washing whenever possible.
Limit the Number of People Working in the Store
School stores that are run by students often have small teams working at the same time, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s difficult to pull this off while also observing proper social distancing, especially once you add customers to the equation. It’s best to only have one person working in the store at a time. In elementary schools where younger students may have difficulty working independently, this may mean having an adult staff member step in to manage the register.
Allow for Better Air Exchange
We know that one of the reasons COVID-19 spreads so easily indoors is because the air isn’t circulating as freely as it does outside. Because school stores are often in small spaces, it’s important to make sure air is being circulated for the health and safety of staff and students.
Air purifiers and box fans can be used to improve ventilation in small school stores. Read more ideas for improving air exchange, including instructions for a low-cost DIY air purifier, on the Yale School of Public Health website.
The protocols that work for your school store today might not work a week from now. As infection rates rise and rules tighten, you might have to close your store altogether or switch from an in-person shopping model to one that allows students to order online or via a paper order form. At some point, it may no longer be safe to have students running your school store or your school may be so short-staffed that your store needs to limit its operations or shut its doors temporarily.
This can certainly be disappointing, particularly when a school store is run by students or if funds from the store are being counted on for fundraising, but safety always comes first.
More Resources for School Stores During the COVID-19 Pandemic
The resources below are not specific to school stores, and much of the information about supply chains and paid leave for employees won’t apply, but there are still valuable tips to be found to help your store operate safely.
A brief alert from OSHA with important tips for keeping retail workers safe during the pandemic.
This comprehensive checklist is a lot to take in, but the Health Policy section near the end of the document has a great deal of useful information.
Basic guidelines from the CDC on safe operations during the pandemic.
If your staff will be responsible for keeping your school store clean, these guidelines will help.
Not all cleaners are effective when it comes to the coronavirus. This curated list from the EPA includes only disinfectants that are proven to kill the COVID-19 virus.
Learn More About School Stores
Whether you’re looking to start a school store or your school already has one and you’re searching for fun inventory to add to your stock, GEDDES can help. Contact us today at 888-431-1722 or request a school supply catalog on our website to learn more and see our full lineup of products.