The Biden administration plans to use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new guidelines to justify keeping some schools closed based on the rate of community COVID-19 transmission in certain areas, CBS News reports.
The new model, which the CDC is expected to release later on Friday, says only K-12 schools in cities and areas with low or moderate virus transmission can fully reopen for in-person learning, as long as physical distancing and mask-wearing is enforced. Any transmission rate beyond what is designated as moderate requires hybrid learning or “reduced attendance,” limiting which children are allowed in the classroom at the same time.
If a certain community reaches the “red zone,” a classification reserved for areas with high COVID-19 transmission numbers, only elementary schools may consider returning to hybrid or reduced learning while middle and high schools are required to host only remote classes. The schools that do provide some in-person learning in “red zones” are expected to provide regular virus testing for staff and students no matter their symptoms.
SCOOP: Biden/CDC school reopening guidance details in draft summary @CBSNews obtained:
-teacher vaccines a priority, not precondition
-6ft social distance, not 3ft
-More on high-risk teachers
By @saraecook & me:https://t.co/5iE7kmm7XJ
— Bo Erickson CBS (@BoKnowsNews) February 12, 2021
The exact numbers to designate the severity and levels of the color-coded zones are still being finalized, but the Biden administration still plans to enforce mask-wearing by all faculty, staff, and students at schools, test anyone who appears to be sick and their “close contacts,” and mandate physical distancing at a minimum of six feet, despite scientific recommendations suggesting three feet is appropriate for children.
Only if schools comply with these regulations will teacher vaccinations not be required for reopening, contradictory to the administration’s previous indications. Even if all teachers in the school are prioritized for vaccinations and receive both rounds of shots, however, the Biden admin still plans to enforce these “mitigation strategies.”
The administration also plans to accommodate teachers who are considered “high risk” by allowing them to remotely teach regardless of their school’s degree of reopening as well as “modifying [their] job requirements or adopting flexible scheduling,” a move meant to satisfy the demands of teachers unions who have refused to work even as children have begun to return to classrooms. Students who have pre-existing medical conditions will also be allowed the option to learn from home.
Other priorities for the Biden administration include incorporating “equity concerns” into their official school reopening rollout plan, setting aside federal funding to provide resources to communities that may not be able to comply with certain measures including “refurbishing ventilation systems, improving digital learning gaps, and prioritizing vaccines and testing.”
This new guidance follows the White House’s education flip-flop on its school reopening policy on Thursday, when press secretary Jen Psaki suddenly said the new administration is devoted to getting children back into classrooms full-time, a drastic shift from the executive’s previous goal of only requiring half of the country’s children to return to in-person schooling for a minimum of one day a week by his 100th day in office, meaning students being back in classrooms for only five or six days total would be enough to meet the goal.
“The president will not rest until every school is open five days a week. That is our goal. That is what we want to achieve,” Psaki said Thursday, adding that parents shouldn’t be satisfied with only partial school reopenings.
Psaki also announced the administration’s intent to “listen to the science” and follow the CDC’s guidelines for classroom learning, a sudden change of heart compared to just a few weeks ago when she and Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain misconstrued the results of a CDC study, which showed student and teacher COVID-19 transmission rates are relatively low, in an effort to appeal to teachers unions and other proponents of keeping children at home. It also follows Psaki’s denial of CDC Director Rochelle Walensky’s suggestion that every teacher does not need to receive a COVID-19 vaccine for schools to safely return to in-person learning.