- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released updated guidance K-12 administrators can use to determine mitigation strategies based on the extent of community transmission of COVID-19 and confirmed cases of the disease in schools. When there is no community transmission, administrators should still prepare by:
- Knowing the signs and symptoms of COVID-19.
- Teaching and reinforcing healthy hygiene.
- Monitoring absenteeism and changes in community spread.
- Ramping up cleaning and disinfecting procedures.
- Developing information-sharing systems.
- Reviewing and updating an emergency operations plan or creating one.
- Requiring sick students and staff to stay home.
- Considering postponement of group gatherings and events.
- Evaluating students of staff members who are at increased risk of contracting the virus and developing plans to continue their work or education in the event they have to stay home.
- When someone at the school has a confirmed case of COVID-19, the building should close for two to five days and administrators should cancel school-related activities regardless of community transmission levels. During this time, administrators should:
- Coordinate with local health officials to determine if extended dismissal is needed.
- Communicate dismissal decisions and extent of exposure to the community.
- Clean and disinfect buildings.
- Determine if equitable educational continuity is possible, and plan for e-learning and teacher training if needed.
- Find ways to continue meal services, especially “grab-and-go” services or meal delivery, which would limit exposure to the virus.
- Find ways to provide necessary services for students with special needs.
- When there is minimal to moderate community spread, the CDC said administrators should continue to coordinate with local health officials and:
- Implement social distancing.
- Consider regular health checks and symptom screenings of students and staff.
- Dismiss schools short-term for cleaning, with the possibility of extended dismissals if there is substantial spread in the community.
CDC’s latest guidance for schools is much more concrete than earlier guidelines and information released in February, which leaders said at the time were “opaque” and sent frontline workers like nurses in a “loop” between the CDC and other government agencies.
The updated agency guidance comes as major metropolitan districts including the Los Angeles United School District, New York City Schools and Seattle Public Schools have announced extended K-12 school closures. Seattle Public Schools extended its initial two-week closure after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced he would be shuttering K-12 school buildings statewide. A large number of other states have closed all school buildings, including Alabama, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, New Mexico, North Carolina.
Some states like Ohio, which had only a handful of reported cases as of Friday, according to the CDC, are acting early to prevent the spread of the virus. Others, like Washington, closed all schools after the numbers of reported cases grew to hundreds.
When communicating to the community information around the virus and closures, administrators should “include messages to counter potential stigma and discrimination,” according to the CDC.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights also released a letter to administrators warning against an increasing number of stereotyping, harassment and bullying incidents stemming from racial or ethnic bias. “These incidents can create a climate of misunderstanding and fear,” the letter warned. “As education leaders working within our respective communities, we must ensure that harassment based on race or ethnicity is not tolerated.”
The correspondence also reminded administrators of their responsibility to investigate, prevent from recurring and remedy incidents of bias under Title VI.