OPINION

CDC Releases New Guidelines on School Reopening: What Are They & What Do They Mean?


After months of anticipation, speculation and criticism, the CDC finally released updated guidance to help school systems decide the best path forward to bring students back into the classroom.

The update encourages school leaders to “layer” safety precautions: masks, social distancing, hand-washing, ventilation, building cleaning and contact tracing. 

“CDC is not mandating that schools reopen,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on Friday. 

Rather, the CDC explains that proper mitigation efforts can help keep kids and staff safe at school, while warning that the virus can still spread if they don’t follow protocols.   

For parents, lawmakers and school systems looking for the go-ahead to reopen, this doesn’t seem to cut it. It simply seems like they are trying to shut up anyone criticizing the lackluster, nonchalant approach to getting kids back into the classroom. 

One key change is the implementation of color-coded charts that divide reopening options into four zones: blue, yellow, orange and red, NPR reports. Districts with low virus spread (blue, 0 to 9 new cases per 100,000 in the past seven days) or moderate transmission (yellow, 10 to 49 new cases) are encouraged to consider fully reopening. 

Schools in areas with substantial case numbers (orange, 50 to 99 new cases per 100,000) should consider a limited reopening with layered safety measures, and schools in areas with high cases (red, more than 100 new cases per 100,000) should remain virtual, though elementary schools may consider limited reopening. 

Additionally, the guidance urges schools to hold off on resuming athletic activities, specifically indoor sports. The CDC advises that in communities with substantial transmission, sports and extracurricular activities should only occur “if they can be held outdoors, with physical distancing of 6 feet or more.” In communities with high transmission, these activities should be virtual only. 

Virtual football, anyone?

The guidance also provides details on how schools can use testing to contain outbreaks It recommends weekly testing of teachers and staff at all tier levels, and weekly testing of students in moderate to high transmission areas. 

But, funding continues to pose challenges for public schools, as budgets have limited most schools from conducting screenings and tests. 

Indeed, coronavirus lockdowns are hitting K-12 students particularly hard. Not only are they being robbed of an in-person education, they are missing out on critical emotional development and social interaction. 

A CDC study found that across the country between April and October of 2020, the percentage of emergency room mental health visits increased by 24 percent for those between the ages of five and 11, and 31 percent for those between the ages of 12 and 17, Business Insider reports. 

A flood of research has found major spikes in depression and anxiety, and multiple studies have found that students – especially those with disabilities and from low-income families – are learning less than they should be. 

A new study from NBC News and Challenge Success, a nonprofit affiliated with the Stanford Graduate School of Education, highlights the differences between students who are learning exclusively from home and those who are back in the classroom at least once a week.

The survey last fall of more than 10,000 students in 12 U.S. high schools found that students who spent time in the classroom reported lower rates of stress and worry than their online classmates.

84 percent of remote students reported exhaustion, headaches, insomnia or other stress-related problems, compared to 82 percent of students who were in the classroom part of the week, and 78 percent of students who were in the classroom full time.

Remote students were also less likely to say they had an adult they could confide in regarding personal problems, and slightly more likely to worry about grades than their peers in the classroom. 

And, remote students did more homework, reporting an average of 90 additional minutes per week, the study found.

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