Preparing for the 2020-21 School Year: Understanding CDC Guidelines in School

Parents, teachers, and students are all on-edge about what school will look like in the fall. School districts and universities across the nation are scrambling to come up with a plan for the future of their institutions, but no one really knows what the future will bring. COVID-19 will continue to be a part of our daily reality, but it is unsure how much it will continue to affect our lives and specifically in the field of education. The goal will be to educate students while also slowing the spread of Coronavirus and keeping communities healthy. But how can we make this happen?

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Educators are asking these important questions:

  • How do schools plan for opening in the fall?
  • What will “safer” schools look like?
  • What options should schools be considering?

Starting the Planning Process

School officials are meeting right now to determine how they will start fall classes. They are trying to meet academic needs while also keeping students and teachers safe. Decisionmakers are gathering feedback from parents, teachers, students, and communities. They are consulting the CDC’s guidelines and state and local regulations.

Help From the CDC

The Center for Disease Control has published a list of guidelines for reopening schools. It is important to note that these are guidelines NOT rules, laws, or regulations. When some parents and teachers first saw the considerations the CDC had posted, they were overwhelmed by how these would be possible to implement. However, not everything listed needs to be implemented—just considered.


The CDC’s Guiding Principles

Many of the CDC’s guiding principles for schools are similar to what we have been hearing for months as the nation has been opening up more and more:

They include:

  • Students and teachers should stay home when they are ill.
  • Handwashing and sanitizing should be practiced often.
  • Face coverings should be worn as much as possible.
  • Post signs and messages to remind everyone of safe practices.
  • Practice social distancing whenever possible.

Here are some of the highlights from their list of considerations that are more specific to schools:

  • Clean and disinfect classrooms, buses, and any common areas often.
  • Minimize the sharing of supplies, books, and technology.
  • Space students 6 feet apart when possible with desks facing the same direction.
  • Socially distance students on buses.
  • Create “one-way routes” in hallways and make social distancing markings throughout the building.
  • Close communal spaces (cafeteria, playground, etc.) if possible or stagger their use.
  • Students should bring their own food and eat in classrooms if possible.
  • Limit non-essential field trips and visitors.
  • Stagger schedules for drop-off and pick-up times.
  • Keep students in the same classroom all day with minimal changing of classes.

Each district has to look at these guidelines and see what will work best for their individual communities. Some are more possible to implement than others, and schools will have to weigh the benefits and consequences of their decisions.

To read all of the details about the guiding principles, check out the CDC’s website.


The Options

So, what are schools considering after looking at these guidelines? There are several choices schools can make.

Business as usual.

Some schools will open as they always have. They will roll the dice and see what happens. This is not necessarily the safest option, but it is a choice for some communities. 

Modified Full-Days

This is like how we picture a traditional school day (buses, full-day instruction, etc.) but with CDC considerations added to the comfort level of each school system. Students are socially distanced, masks are worn, cafeterias may be closed, etc. Students would return to school, but school would look very different.

Half-Days of School

By splitting the days in half, fewer students will be in the building at a time, which can encourage more social distancing in hallways and classrooms. Also, students can have time at home to eat and play, which might prevent the need for common areas like  cafeterias and playgrounds to be used.

Alternating Days

This is similar to the half-days because it reduces the number of students in the building at any given time. Socially distancing can be easier. This can also have a component of online schooling on the days where students are not in school.


Making these decisions cannot be easy for administrators. There are so many factors involved. There is comfort in knowing that decisions will be made with the safety of our children and communities in mind. And there is hope that someday soon, our students and teachers will return to some semblance of normalcy.

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