The Centers for Disease Control on Friday released new guidance to safely get students back into classrooms amid the pandemic.
The CDC’s “road map” included five mitigation strategies, and prioritized the first two – mandatory and proper mask wearing by students, teachers and staff, and maintaining at least six feet between people by grouping students in cohorts.
The other strategies the agency emphasized are hand washing, cleaning facilities, and conducting contact tracing and implementing quarantine when people have been exposed.
Additionally, the CDC said states should prioritize COVID-19 vaccines for teachers, but said vaccinations will not be required for schools to reopen.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky emphasized during a news briefing that the department is not requiring schools to reopen at this time.
“These recommendations simply provide schools a long-needed road map for how to do so safely under different levels of disease in the community,” she said.
Walensky said bringing students back into the classroom setting, where they have access to support systems school districts provide, is important, and she noted that in-person learning has not been identified as a substantial driver of coronavirus.
She called reopening schools a shared responsibility.
“The safest way to open schools is to ensure that there is as little COVID-19 as possible in the community, so everyone must do their part to protect each other and reduce the level of the virus in the community,” said Walensky.
The CDC, emphasized that reopenings should be based on community transmission rates.
It introduced a color-coded chart, based on rates of new cases per 100,000 and percentage of positive tests, to determine the model of instruction schools can use, ranging from full in-person to virtual only.
Walensky noted that schools across the country have been operating under a variety of learning models for months.
At Bentworth School District, about 83% of students have been attending full-time, in-person classes since the start of the school year.
Superintendent Scott Martin said the district has had to close the high school only twice, for two days each time.
“It’s a combination of everyone pulling together – teachers trusting colleagues and administrators, parents trusting that schools are doing all they can to keep students safe, and schools trusting parents not to send anyone to school if they’re sick,” said Martin, noting the district’s mitigation, masking, and social distancing efforts.
Walensky assured parents that the CDC’s strategy is science-based, with the goal of protecting students, teachers, and staff.
President Joe Biden has said he wants schools to reopen within his first 100 days in office, but he stressed that he wants them to reopen safely and will rely on health and medical experts to determine the guidance to resume in-person learning.