CDC: K-12 Schools can reopen safely for in-person learning

MILTON, Mass. — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said school districts in low-transmission communities should be able to go back to in-person learning.

Friday, newly appointed CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said her agency has done a thorough review of scientific evidence and the lived experience of students, educators and parents to form a new operational strategy to reopen schools through phased mitigation.

There is no mandate for schools to reopen but what the CDC calls a ‘pathway’ to opening schools and having them stay open created with input from all sides.

President Joe Biden has said one of his goals is to open schools within his first 100 days in office.

The priority strategies are universal and proper mask wearing and physical distancing.

When pressed on whether 6 feet of distancing was required for schools to reopen, the CDC officials said it was not.

Boston 25 News spoke with Massachusetts Teacher Association President Merrie Najimy and asked if teachers are comfortable with no set amount of distancing space.

“No, especially with the new variant, we’re entering a different phase of the pandemic,” Najimy said.

CDC leadership said states should prioritize getting teachers and staff vaccinated but it is not necessary that they all be vaccinated to reopen schools.

This comes as parents like Bonnie Bate of Milton fear their children are falling behind because of remote and hybrid learning models.

“I don’t want my kids to lose ground and fall behind, to me... it puts them at a disadvantage,” Bate explained.

Her children receive three hours of in-person learning, a new change for the district, but not enough in-school time for her family.

“I moved to Milton for the school system and if then best we can do is three hours a day when all these other districts are doing so much more I may have to move,” Bate added.

School Committee Chairperson Sheila Egan Varela told Boston 25 News Friday that there is an over-enrollment issue in Milton that would make physical distancing impossible if all students were to be brought back for full-time instruction. She also said that teachers want to be vaccinated before full-time instruction begins in the district of 2,600.

Plymouth Parent Christie Nelson says that the Plymouth School District has no leg to stand on.

“It’s absolutely not acceptable at this point,” says Nelson.

She says it’s time to focus on families too.

“Single parents trying to manage putting food on the table, sending their kids to school, paying rent,” said Nelson.

Nelson said Plymouth’s biggest hurdle was transportation. It’s a large district and bussing students was not feasible but yesterday DESE, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, cleared that hurdle. “So now elementary and middle school can go back without having any restrictions of how many kids can be on the bus,” said Nelson.

The other big issue: the vaccination of teachers which the CDC says is important as does the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

“The CDC reinforced their earlier guidance that staff need to be vaccinated as soon as possible,” said Najimy.

But the CDC also says teachers do not have to be vaccinated for students to go back to class.

“We believe and the science has demonstrated that schools can be reopened safely prior to all teachers being vaccinated,” says CDC Director Rochelle Wolensky.

The CDC provided guidelines as well, many already recommended by Gov. Charlie Baker and DESE. They include:

  • Universal mask wearing
  • Social distancing
  • Hand washing & cleaning
  • Contact tracing

Many parents now hope these CDC guidelines will push schools to have students return in-person, sooner than later.

Other school districts like Hanover Public Schools are phasing in four days of in-person learning starting the week after February break and continuing for several weeks.

The district has been hybrid except for grades K-2 which attend four days a week as well as students that are considered high-need.

“We’ve just heard so many stories of kids struggling, families struggling and knowing that we have done it safely,” said Leah Miller, School Committee Chairperson.

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education provide a statement to Boston 25 News regarding the new CDC guidance.

“The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education agrees with the CDC that it is safe to reopen schools for in-person learning, and that schools should prioritize bringing kids back into classrooms with the proper protocols. The new federal guidance adheres to many of the safety protocols that are already being followed by schools across the Commonwealth to keep students and teachers safe, including universal masking and testing initiatives. Since last June, DESE has provided hundreds of pages of extensive public health and safety guidance and nearly $1B in COVID-related funding for communities to reopen schools. The Department will carefully review the CDC’s updated guidance.”

– Executive Office of Education Spokeswoman Colleen Quinn

Neither DESE nor the office of Gov. Charlie Baker commented on the CDC’s stance on teacher vaccinations. Teachers are not in the current phase of vaccine distribution in Massachusetts.

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