Skip to main content

CDC’s Schools Reopening Guidelines

On February 12, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released two resources for schools: Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Mitigation and The Science Brief: Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in K-12 Schools that add to CDC’s existing guidance for K-12 schools in opening for in-person instruction and remaining open.

CDC Guidance Top Lines: 

Science-based mitigation strategies.  The CDC’s science-based strategy is an integrated package of tools to support safe school openings and protect teachers, students, and school staff. The bedrock of this strategy¸ consistent with AFT recommendations since last April, is layered mitigation consisting of: 

  • Universal and correct use of masks,
  • Physical distancing,
  • Handwashing and respiratory etiquette,
  • Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities, and
  • Diagnostic testing and rapid and efficient contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine, in collaboration with the health department

More specifically the CDC states that the preponderance of evidence indicates that masking and physical distancing are most essential:

  • Universal and correct use of masks  should be required for all students, teachers and staff, and
  • Physical distancing of at least 6 feet between people, with cohorting or podding of students to minimize exposure across the school environment.

Beyond these essentials, the CDC emphasizes two public health efforts provide additional layers of COVID-19 protection in schools:

  • Regular testing to identify individuals with SARS-CoV-2 infection to limit transmission and outbreaks
  • Vaccination for teachers and school staff, and in communities, as soon as supply allows. 

Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities, including ventilation.  Ventilation is addressed in the section related to cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities. The CDC’s focus on opening windows and doors to increase circulation is an area where the AFT’s reopen plan differs from the guidance.  

On vaccination: The Advisory Committee on Immunization practices recommends that frontline essential workers, including teachers and school staff, be prioritized for vaccination. The guidance adds that the CDC strongly encourages states to prioritize teachers and other school staff to get vaccinated as soon as supply allows. 

Accommodations: At all levels of community transmission, employers should provide reassignment, remote work, or other options for staff who have documented high-risk conditions or who are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 to limit the risk of workplace exposure. When these conditions are disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers must provide reasonable accommodation subject to undue hardship.

The CDC is not mandating the reopening of schools. The new guidance is intended to provide a roadmap to do so safely—a roadmap that begins with the mitigation strategies outlined above. 

Temporary closures.  While the CDC guidance does not contain a closure trigger, the guidance indicates that schools in hybrid or in- person modes may temporarily close for in-person learning in cases of active in-school outbreaks, rapid or persistent rises in community transmission, or severe burden on health care capacity. 

Lastly the CDC acknowledges the need for more studies of the impact of school reopening in diverse communities and that the guidance issued today (2-12-21) may be altered by the spread of new, more transmissible variants of COVID-19. They plan to host webinars with key educational and public health partners to help inform key stakeholders about these strategies.

Summary of US Department of Education COVID-19 Handbook Volume 1:Strategies for Safely Reopening Elementary and Secondary Schools 

On February 12, 2021, the U.S. Department of Education released a  companion document  to the CDC operational guidance. This handbook is the first of two volumes and aims to provide practical examples for educators and staff to implement CDC’s recommended safe practices for in-person learning. 

Highlights include: 

  • Masking practices, including an example from the Boston Public Schools/ Boston Teachers Union collective bargaining agreement
  • Physical distancing practices, including an example from Washington DC schools
  • Examples of cleaning and maintain healthy facilities, including ventilation improvements, with an example from New York City
  • Specific ideas around cohorting and transportation of students including seating one student per row and assigning each bus rider to a designated seat that is the same every day.
  • Ideas for Stakeholder Engagement that include educators, staff, parents and community and students.

The second volume of the ED COVID-19 Handbook, which will be released in the coming weeks, will provide specific strategies to address the disruption created by COVID-19 for students, educators, and parents — especially for historically underserved students and communities that preliminary data suggest have been hit hardest by the pandemic, and will include the following strategies and examples:

  • Meeting the social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs of students
  • Supporting educator and school staff well-being
  • Addressing lost instructional time for students
  • Stabilizing a diverse and qualified educator workforce
  • Ensuring equitable access to broadband and the devices needed to participate in remote learning
  • Supporting the effective use of technology for in-person learning and periodic shifts to remote learning
  • Providing school nutrition, regardless of the educational setting
  • Providing all students with access to a safe and inclusive learning environment 
  • Extending learning time
  • Addressing resource inequities to provide all students with the educational opportunities they need to succeed, including access to a well-rounded education (including advanced courses, music, and the arts), quality educators, and integrated student support services
  • Using data to inform students, parents, and educators of progress and areas requiring additional support

Share This