UPDATE: July 27, 2021: In a Tuesday announcement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated guidance to recommend all students and staff wear masks in schools regardless of vaccination status, citing rising infections due to the spread of the delta variant of COVID-19. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said this change is "not a welcomed piece of news" and "was not a decision that was taken lightly," noting only 30% of children 12-17 are currently fully vaccinated.
Eight states having barred local districts from imposing mask mandates, and the extent to which schools at large will adjust masking policies remains unclear. The American Academy for Pediatrics has also recommended universal masking in school buildings.
In new guidance issued ahead of the 2021-22 school year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that all individuals ages 2 and older who have not been vaccinated should wear face coverings while in K-12 buildings. In general, people do not need to wear masks outside, the guidance said.
Three feet of social distancing should be maintained while inside, but the inability to do so should not prevent schools from offering a full return to in-person learning. Instead, schools should use other prevention strategies, including mask wearing, handwashing, ventilation, screening and more, CDC said.
Unlike earlier this year, the White House has not issued a goal for in-person learning offerings. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona has said he expects all schools to reopen for full-time in-person learning.
While schools prepare mitigation efforts for the 2021-22 school year, they are still facing hesitancy from parents reluctant to send their children to school when the pandemic is ongoing. Only those 12 and older are currently eligible to receive a vaccination, all of which are under emergency use authorization for so far.
A survey conducted in April — before teens ages 13-17 were eligible for vaccinations — by the CDC and researchers at the University of Iowa and RAND Corporation showed more than half of teens and parents said they intended to receive the adolescent vaccination. In Friday’s guidance, CDC said the promotion of vaccinations can help schools safely return to in-person learning and host extracurricular activities and sports.
Public schools are not requiring students to be vaccinated and Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, said this week it is unlikely the Biden administration would make vaccines mandatory for schools.
“The good news is that there are a number of mitigation measures that have been recommended, of course, by the CDC that our Department of Education has been working to help local school districts implement,” Psaki said at a July 6 press briefing, adding that American Rescue Plan funding is providing money to districts to implement safety protocols.
The costs per student for implementing COVID-19 safety protocols in schools ranges from $55 for materials to $442 for materials, additional custodial staff and transportation, according to a December CDC report. AASA, The School Superintendents Association and the Association of School Business Officials International estimated in 2020 that an average school district with about 3,600 students would need to spend nearly $1.8 million on cleaning and safety protocols to fully reopen for in-person learning.
Funds from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief program can be targeted toward school safety measures, including COVID-19 testing for students and staff. In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency offers reimbursement for personal protection equipment, cleaning and COVID-10 screening. FEMA also has a roadmap that helps education leaders navigate technical and financial challenges and find solutions.
Additionally, CDC has released updated guidance for operating early childhood education and child care programs during the ongoing pandemic.