WASHINGTON, DC — In his push to get schools to reopen, President Donald Trump has complained that guidelines offered by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to safely reopen amid the Covid-19 pandemic are “very tough” and “expensive.”
If you’re one of the many parents and educators around the country agonizing over the upcoming start of the school year, you may already have pored over the CDC’s recommendations.
Spoiler alert: There’s probably nothing there that would surprise you, given the pandemic.
But there’s a lot that may disappoint those who were hoping for a return to a semblance of what used to be normal, including in-person field trips, sports and spirit nights.
Social distancing, hand-washing (teach, monitor and enforce, the CDC says), daily health checks and disinfecting and sanitizing — that’s all there, of course.
This is what the guidelines say
The CDC has three different sets of recommendations in its guidelines for administrators: for communities where there’s no virus spread, for those where there is minimal to moderate transmission, and for those where there is “substantial” spread.
No matter how much community transmission is in the area, schools should dismiss staff and students for two to five days if an infected person has been in a school building, and working with local health officials, decide whether to close for longer.
While closed, eduction should continue, e.g. through distance learning, and meals should still be provided to those who need them.
If there’s no transmission in the community, schools are in a preparedness phase, putting a plan in place should Covid-19 break out.
- Teaching hygiene practices, including hand-washing.
- More sanitizing efforts.
- Monitoring absenteeism that could signal Covid-19 cases.
- Consider canceling gatherings, such as sports events.
- Require sick staff members and students to stay home.
- A communications plan to convey information to the community.
What if there are cases of virus in the community?
If there is minimal to moderate transmission of the virus in a community, it gets a lot more complicated. Here are the recommendations, added to those above.
School administrators should “think creatively” about how to keep students apart physically and “limit interactions in large group settings.”
- Desks should not only be spaced apart, but all facing the same direction.
- Cancel gatherings, such as sports events and practices, field trips and assemblies.
- Cancel or modify classes such as choir or physical education, where students are in close contact.
- Try to limit students mixing with one another: Have them eat meals in the classroom, not in a dining hall. Stagger the release of classes.
- Stagger arrivals and dismissals.
- Limit nonessential visitors.
What schools should consider
In its Considerations for Schools guidance, the CDC has more ideas.
- Schools should have physical reminders, like markings on sidewalks and walls, that mark off six feet, and signs reminding students of protective measures.
- Facial covering should be worn by both students and faculty, “as feasible,” and especially when keeping a distance isn’t possible.
- Sharing — equipment, games, supplies — should be avoided. If that’s not possible, they should be cleaned after each use.
- Communal areas should be shut, including cafeterias and dining halls — the CDC recommends that students eat in their classrooms — and playgrounds.
- Students, especially younger ones, should remain in one classroom with the same group and teacher all day. For the older students, that should be done “as much as possible.”
- Rooms should be ventilated well, bringing in and circulating air from the outside if possible.
- Physical barriers, like sneeze guards or partitions, should be in place when six feet of distance isn’t possible.
- Schools should have flexible policies and practices for sick leave so that staff members can “stay home when they are sick, have been exposed, or caring for someone who is sick,” without being punished for staying home.
Guidance for where there is ‘substantial’ transmission
Where there is “substantial community transmission,” schools should consider closing for longer than two weeks, the CDC said.
The CDC points out, though, that schools, working with state and local health officials, should decide “whether and how to implement these considerations while adjusting to meet the unique needs and circumstances of the local community.”
“Implementation should be guided by what is feasible, practical, acceptable, and tailored to the needs of each community,” the CDC wrote.