CDC calls for K-12 schools to reopen

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday called for grade schools and secondary schools across the country to reopen safely and as soon as possible for in-person instruction in a lengthy set of new guidelines.

The new recommendations come as the nation debates students back to schools for in-person learning, as virtual learning has had broadly negative impacts on students’ mental health and academic performance, as well as making life difficult for parents who have had to adjust to having their children at home and a whole new work life.

“It is critical for schools to open as safely and as soon as possible, and remain open, to achieve the benefits of in-person learning and key support services,” the CDC stated in the new guidelines. “All community members, students, families, teachers, and school staff should take actions to protect themselves and others where they live, work, learn, and play.”

In the guidelines, the CDC laid out “five key mitigation strategies” to help reopen K-12 schools safely. Those five key strategies are: everybody wearing masks and wearing them correctly; social distancing; washing hands; cleaning facilities and bolstering ventilation; and practicing contact tracing and quarantining.

While policies such as mask-wearing and social distancing have been recommended by the CDC before in previous guidelines, this time the CDC is more assertively calling on schools to practice them.

The CDC emphasized that such schools should be reopened before nonessential businesses and activities are and that they should be the last to shut down when state and local governments enact COVID-19 restrictions.

“I want to be clear, with this operational strategy, CDC is not mandating that schools reopen. These recommendations simply provide schools a long-needed roadmap for how to do so safely under different levels of disease in the community,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a Friday press briefing.

“We also know that some schools are already providing in-person instruction and we want them to be able to continue to do this, but we know that some are not following the recommended mitigation strategies we know to work,” Walensky added. “For these schools, we are not mandating that they close; rather, we are providing these recommendations and highlighting the science behind them to help schools create an environment that is safe for schools, students, teachers and staff.”

While the Biden administration has been calling for K-12 schools to reopen soon and safely, specifically most of them within his first 100 days, teachers unions across the country have been pushing back against reopening until more protections are put in place and testing and vaccinations for teachers become more available.

Last week, though, Walensky said during a White House press briefing that vaccinating is “not a prerequisite” for safely reopening schools.

“There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen and that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated,” she told reporters.

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