A chain locks a gate to the playground at Collins Elementary School in Pinole, California, Dec. 30, 2020.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected Friday to unveil sweeping new guidance on how schools can safely reopen for in-person learning despite the spread of the coronavirus and highly contagious new variants.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky and Donna Harris-Aikens, senior advisor for policy and planning at the Department of Education, are scheduled to host a briefing on the fresh guidance at 2 p.m. ET. The CDC said they will discuss “new science-based resources and tools to help schools safely reopen and stay open for in-person learning.”
The new guidance comes after Walensky said last week that schools can safely reopen even if teachers aren’t yet vaccinated. The White House quickly distanced themselves from the comment. Press secretary Jen Psaki said it was not “official guidance” from the CDC.
President Joe Biden has made reopening the nation’s schools for in-person instruction one of his top priorities. He pledged in December to resume in-person instruction at a majority of the nation’s schools in his first 100 days after taking office, but Biden did not define what it meant for a school to “reopen.”
In January, he specified that the goal applied only to schools that teach students up to eighth grade. And earlier this week, the White House further clarified that schools will be considered open so long as they teach in person at least one day a week. Psaki said Wednesday the goal is part of the White House’s “bold ambitious agenda,” adding that it’s a floor the administration hopes to exceed.
“His goal that he set is to have the majority of schools, so more than 50%, open by day 100 of his presidency,” she said. “And that means some teaching in classrooms. So, at least one day a week. Hopefully, it’s more.”
In-person schooling came to an abrupt halt across the country in March as schools shifted to remote learning to protect students, teachers and parents from the coronavirus. But education experts and public health groups, including the World Health Organization, have warned of the lasting consequences of keeping students out of the classroom. Economists, too, have warned of the impact on working parents, especially mothers, who have become unemployed in record numbers during the pandemic.
Former President Donald Trump urged governors and local officials to reopen schools for in-person learning, saying in July that keeping schools closed will probably cause “more death.” But under his administration, the CDC offered little guidance on how and when to reopen safely, saying instead that the decision should be made by local and state officials.
The issue has become contentious in the U.S., with some saying the risk of the coronavirus to children is smaller than the consequences of missing school. While children and young adults are generally less likely to become severely sick and die from Covid-19, risk is heightened if the person has an underlying condition that compromises their immune system. Over 120 people younger than 20 have died of Covid-19 in the U.S. as of September, according to the CDC.
In lieu of clear federal direction thus far, state, local and school officials have all charted their own course on how and when to reopen schools. Data from Burbio, a service that tracks school opening plans, recently reported that almost 65% of K-12 students are already learning in person to some degree.
This story will be updated throughout the day.