As schools begin to plan for the next school year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines for the safest possible measures. Here's the breakdown.

By Kristi Pahr
May 22, 2020
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After months of social distancing and virtual schooling, parents across the country are anxiously waiting for September so kids can return to school and life, hopefully, can return to normal. Yet reopening schools may not be as cut-and-dried as many people think. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a list of guidelines recommended to keep school reopening as safe as possible for students and staff members alike that has many people wondering if a return in the fall will even be possible.

According to the list, which was published on the CDC website earlier this week, major changes are necessary to promote safe social distancing in crowded schools. It covers everything from face coverings to communal spaces like cafeterias and playgrounds and it is thorough. The guidelines are broken down into multiple sections and cover every conceivable aspect of daily operations. Here's what parents should know.

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Changes for Kids

Children can expect big changes in the fall. Aside from frequent and thorough hand-washing and face coverings for everyone over age 2, the CDC recommends that desks be spaced six feet apart and all facing the same direction, bus seating is kept to one student per seat, and supplies that aren't easily cleaned or disinfected should not be shared—pencils, paper, tablets, computers, and books. Also, each child should have their own art supplies and other equipment. Say goodbye to that communal pencil cup!

Meals should be sent from home if possible and, if that's not an option, individual servings of cafeteria food should be available. Lunch and breakfast should be eaten in classrooms to avoid large, crowded cafeterias. In instances where that's not possible, the guidelines suggest staggering time spent in the cafeteria and recommend a thorough cleaning between each group. The same goes for playgrounds—don't use them, but if you have to, use them sparingly and clean all the playground equipment between uses.

To help with social distancing, the CDC recommends visual guides in common areas, like tape on walls, one-way routes in hallways, and signs reminding children to spread out. Kids could also see sneeze guards between spaces where social distancing might be difficult, like bathroom sinks.

Changes for Teachers and Support Staff

The biggest changes for school adults will be related to the cleaning and disinfection of pretty much everything all the time. Teachers should expect to stay with the same group of kids all day, as the guidelines recommend keeping small groups together instead of changing classes throughout the day. Teachers and school officials will have their hands full implementing and encouraging proper social distancing and all the logistics of keeping kids separated in close quarters like classrooms and hallways.

Teachers will also be expected to have an adequate amount of hygiene supplies like hand sanitizer, soap, and paper towels on hand to facilitate an increase in hand-washing.

Are These Guidelines Required?

A viral social media post that includes a truncated version of the CDC guidelines caused an uproar online as parents wondered how so many changes could be implemented. But, the list is inaccurate, according to a report from USA Today. The meme implies that the guidelines are requirements not recommendations but each state will implement changes as it sees fit with input from school district superintendents. The CDC guidelines are just that—guidelines, not requirements—and states will have the ultimate say in how reopenings occur.

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