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
Updated August 12, 2020

After months of social distancing and virtual schooling, parents across the country are anxiously wondering what the next school year will look like. Some states and cities have announced tentative plans that promote student and teacher safety during COVID-19 times.

For example, Governor Andrew Cuomo says all schools in New York State can reopen, but local politicians and superintendents must decide on the details. The School District of Philadelphia will begin with remote schooling through mid-November, then will likely follow a “hybrid learning model” plan with both in-person and virtual lessons. Many other districts (such as Los Angeles, San Diego, and Atlanta) decided against any in-person instruction for now, while others have moved forward totally with in-person classes (including the Georgia school district where many students and staff have tested positive for COVID-19).

How do officials come up with these reopening plans? Many of them rely on considerations released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which say that major changes are necessary to promote safe social distancing in crowded schools. These guidelines cover everything from face coverings to sanitization to social distancing in communal spaces. Here's what parents should know.

School Reopening Changes for Kids

Whether or not your region has released school reopening plans yet, 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 should be 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. They might also “teach and reinforce” the concepts of hand-washing and mask wearing.

You can read more about the CDC’s school reopening guidelines here.

Are These School Reopening Guidelines Required?

These CDC guidelines have caused many parents to wonder how so many changes could be implemented. But keep in mind that the CDC guidelines are just that—guidelines, not requirements—and states will have the ultimate say in how school reopenings occur.

According to the CDC, “Schools can determine, in collaboration with state and local health officials to the extent possible, whether and how to implement these considerations while adjusting to meet the unique needs and circumstances of the local community. Implementation should be guided by what is feasible, practical, acceptable, and tailored to the needs of each community.”