CDC prioritizes in-person learning in guidance for reopening schools

Opening schools benefits students academically and social emotionally, and is key to supporting the economy, CDC says
By: | July 24, 2020
The CDC revised K12 safety guidelines—updated after President Donald Trump pressured school leaders to reopen to face-to-face learning—detail the importance of in-person instruction despite the risk of spreading COVID.(GettyImages/FatCamera)The CDC revised K12 safety guidelines—updated after President Donald Trump pressured school leaders to reopen to face-to-face learning—detail the importance of in-person instruction despite the risk of spreading COVID.(GettyImages/FatCamera)

Bringing students and teachers back to classrooms for in-person instruction is the driving principle in the CDC’s revised guidelines for reopening schools safely the continued surge in COVID infections.

The guidelines, updated after President Donald Trump pressured school leaders to reopen to face-to-face learning, offer a list of reasons why in-person instruction is important despite the risk of spreading COVID.

“The unique and critical role that schools play makes them a priority for opening and remaining open, enabling students to receive both academic instruction and support as well as critical services,” the CDC says in it updated.

The guidance says:

  • Schools play a critical role in the wellbeing of communities, providing safe and supportive environments and routines for children.
  • Schools play a vital role in the economy by employing teachers and other staff and allowing parents, guardians, and caregivers work.
  • In-person instruction increases communication between teachers and students, and provides students with critical academic services such as school-based tutoring, special education, and other specialized learning supports.
  • Students have experienced learning loss since schools closed and over the summer. In-person classroom instruction allows students to interact with each other and lets teachers more actively participate in student learning.
  • In-person instruction may be particularly beneficial for students with additional learning needs.

“When schools are closed to in-person instruction, disparities in educational outcomes could become wider, as some families may not have the capacity to fully participate in distance learning,” the guidance says. “The persistent achievement gaps that already existed prior to COVID-19 closures, such as disparities across income levels and racial and ethnic groups, could worsen and cause long-term effects on children’s educational outcomes, health, and the economic wellbeing of families and communities.”


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In recent weeks, experts have stressed the value of bringing students back to classrooms, particularly younger children and learners who struggling online or who have disabilities.

However, education and public health expert have also pointed out that schools have only reopened safely without sparking new outbreaks in countries where COVID transmission rates are low—a condition that does not exist in many U.S. states this summer.

Tackling COVID transmission rates

The CDC suggests schools reach out to their communities to find additional public or private spaces, including outdoors, that could be converted into temporary classrooms that allow greater social distancing.

The CDC advocates grouping student into cohorts, a step many administrators have promised to take in districts planning to resume in-person instruction.


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The agency also provided a set of actions administrators can take based on the rate of community transmission:

  • None to minimal transmission: Reinforce everyday preventive actions, ensuring proper ventilation within school facilities, including buses, and maintaining cleaning and disinfection practices remain important. Monitor absenteeism among teachers, staff, and students to determine if absences are due to COVID-19.
  • Minimal to moderate: Schools should follow the actions listed above, and continue implementing mitigation strategies such as social distancing, use of cloth faced coverings, reinforcing everyday preventive actions, and maintaining cleaning and disinfection.
  • Substantial, controlled transmission: Significant mitigation strategies are necessary such as ensuring that student and staff groupings/cohorts are as static as possible with limited mixing of student and staff groups; canceling field trips and large gatherings; and closing communal spaces such as cafeterias and media centers.
  • Substantial, uncontrolled transmission: I community transmission levels cannot be decreased, school closure, and a switch to virtual learning is an important consideration.

DA’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on K-12.