Education Experts and CDC Announce What We’ll Need To Re-Open Schools In the Fall

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a set of interim guidelines that includes suggestions for reopening schools and child care centers in three steps, but it has a ton of parents raising a skeptical eyebrow. 

The three-step process describes Step One as keeping the schools closed and switching to e-learning until infection rates and the spread of the virus slows, something that school districts across the country have been doing for weeks. Step Two details how to re-open with enhanced distancing measures for students who live in the area local to the school only, and Step Three details how to re-open with distancing measures while restricting attendance to only those students from limited transmission areas where the infection rate is low.  

Some of the suggestions for re-opening schools include:

  • Keeping all desks six feet apart and facing the same direction
  • Possibly staggering school start times to avoid crowds
  • Wearing masks for anyone over the age of 2
  • No field trips or extracurricular activities that involve groups
  • Avoiding sharing of school supplies, devices, books, and other items
  • Developing a schedule for routine cleaning
  • Removing or closing shared spaces, such as cafeterias and libraries, which means children could have to bring their own lunches and eat in classrooms or outside
  • Taping areas on floors to ensure students remain six feet apart
  • Placing physical barriers between sinks in bathrooms
  • Students should stay with the same staff members all day instead of switching around, when possible
  • One student per seat on school buses and skip rows between riders
  • Possible daily temperature checks

The CDC makes it clear that these considerations depend on community monitoring to prevent COVID-19 from spreading. Communities with low levels of COVID-19 spread and those with confidence that the incidence of infection is genuinely low may put in place the practices described as part of a gradual scale-up of operations. “All decisions about following these recommendations should be made in collaboration with local health officials and other state and local authorities who can help assess the current level of mitigation needed based on levels of COVID-19 community transmission and the capacities of the local public health and healthcare systems, among other relevant factors,” the 60-page document says. 

The CDC’s Schools Reopening Tool, reviewed May 15, 2020

The American Federation of Teachers has also released its guidelines. Their blueprint is much simpler than the CDC’s but aligns with most of its recommendations, adding that an infrastructure for testing, tracing, and isolating cases should also be in place. The American Enterprise Institute—in collaboration with 19 former state chiefs, superintendents, federal education officials, and school leaders—also released guidelines, but adds the need for “accommodations for administrators and students who may be at heightened risk from COVID-19 because of their age or other health conditions.”

Parent reactions so far run the gamut from those that feel all of these precautions will make kids frightened to go to school every day, to those who say it’s time for kids to go back to school, no matter what. One parent who is also an elementary school nurse calls suggestions to control behaviors like sharing pencils or getting within 6 feet of each other unrealistic, saying kids are not “little soldiers, they don’t just fall in and do as they’re told.” Constantly wearing masks seems to be a major sticking point for many, with several parents stating that adults have a hard time wearing them for just 15 minutes in a grocery store, so how can we expect young children to wear them all day long? There are also those who question the possibility of adhering to some of the suggestions, like spacing kids out every other seat on the bus, due to time and budget constraints. The general consensus on at least one parent thread we found on Facebook seemed to be against the notion of reopening schools with so many precautions in place. 

There is still so much uncertainty surrounding the issue of re-opening schools, but one thing is for sure: There’s no need to panic. If distance learning is working for your child and you don’t feel comfortable sending your child back to school when the time comes, most experts seem to agree that parents won’t be forced to do anything they don’t want to do. Many students, especially those with preexisting conditions, will be allowed to continue with distance learning as long as necessary until this crisis is over.

The former Content Director at Parenting, and several other brands, Ana Connery is a writer and content strategist whose work appears in USA Today, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, Cafe Mom/The Stir, Momtastic, and others.