Managing the New Challenges of Seriously Ill Students

A school in Wisconsin saw the unexpected in the weeks after it opened up: parents sending their sick students to school. Even students who tested positive for COVID-19 were being sent to school, with parents not being transparent with contact tracing teams about their children’s positive tests. The district is considering harsh penalties for these parents.

While this scenario hopefully isn’t common, you likely will face the challenges of seriously ill students coming to school. Considerations to keep in mind include how to quarantine these students away from the general population and how to track other students with whom they’ve been in contact. You’ll also want to make plans for ensuring that sick students can stay on track with their schoolwork.

Here are a few of the best strategies for meeting the challenges of seriously ill students.

Implement policies that minimize the risk of infection, even if a sick student comes to campus.

As the Wisconsin example proves, children who are sick—or even infected with COVID-19—still might go to school. In fact, you should plan your school year with the idea that a sick child will, at some point, come to campus.

The key here is to prepare your school to minimize the likelihood that COVID-19 will spread. The CDC has made several recommendations to decrease these risks. Students should wear masks when in close proximity to others and wash their hands regularly. They should also be informed about the symptoms of COVID-19 so they can tell a parent, guardian, or faculty member if they’re feeling ill.

Create socially-distanced classrooms.

You should also ensure that students can socially distance while on campus. This may sound daunting, but you can have socially-distanced classrooms with staggered class times and hybrid classes.

ScholarChip’s One Card and Secure Door Access can help implement these changes. Each student should be assigned a One Card, which includes a unique identifier for each student. Then, install a Secure Door Access card reader on every door, including the main entrance to the school. Students’ cards only unlock the doors of where they’re supposed to be on campus.

For example, let’s say that a student has a fourth-period biology class but arrives at the room early. How can the classroom stay socially distanced with an additional person in the room? The One Card will admit students only when they’re supposed to be in the room. Since this student arrived early, they won’t be able to enter.

Adding technology to your campus can help you address the challenges of seriously ill students.

Quarantine the student until a parent or guardian can pick them up.

Even if a student only has mild symptoms of an illness that may or may not be COVID-19, it’s essential to quarantine them away from other students. Create an isolation room—or perhaps multiple rooms—where students can stay by themselves until they can be picked up by a parent or guardian. Even if the student is only sick with a cold, it’s better to be safe than sorry when addressing the challenges of seriously ill students.

Contact trace other students and staff who may have come in contact with the infected person.

If a seriously ill student does come to campus, they will undoubtedly interact with other students and faculty, likely for extended periods. It’s vital to have a contact tracing team that can identify those with whom the infected individual has interacted. This way, if the sick student does have a positive COVID-19 test, these individuals can self-quarantine at home until they’re sure that they haven’t been infected with the illness.

The same ScholarChip tools that aid in staggered class schedules can also simplify contact tracing. By tracking students’ routes on campus, you can easily identify the students with whom the infected student has come into contact. The contact tracing team can then connect with these students or faculty and inform them of their increased risk of contracting COVID-19.

Keep the sick student up to date with schoolwork.

If a student is sick with COVID-19, you want to make sure they’re still keeping up with their coursework. Students can do so if you’ve implemented hybrid classes, where students can watch live classes from home or watch recorded lectures later.

However, if students fall behind, make sure you also have ways for teachers to track and connect with students. This is where the Alternative Behavior Educator (ABE) can help. Teachers can record interactions with students for themselves and other teachers. If a student isn’t keeping up with their schoolwork, ABE will suggest activities that can get the student back on track.


Parents, administrators, faculty, staff, and the community must work together to mitigate the challenges of seriously ill students on campus. Before any sick students are found on your campus, you first need to develop policies that prevent the likelihood of transmission. If a student sick with COVID-19 does arrive at your school, you will be much better prepared to decrease the impact.

The ScholarChip team is dedicated to helping school leaders maximize the safety and well-being of students and the entire school community.

Now sure what you should do to be able to identify and manage the spread of a viral outbreak in your school or school district? Feel free to chat with one of our school crisis communication specialists today!