The two largest U.S. unions representing educators on Friday approved new federal guidelines calling for the full reopening of schools, while acknowledging that other challenges awaited children under 12 ineligible for vaccination.
The new recommendations, issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday, come after students, teachers and parents endured a disruptive school year characterized by shifting directions, school closures and out-of-school learning plans. hastily implemented distance to contain the coronavirus.
Education has been a flashpoint since the outbreak of the pandemic, when many teachers and families were afraid of in-person schooling. But distance learning has proven to be an inadequate substitute for many parents and students, and virtually all major districts are planning to reopen full-time schools in the fall – although they have yet to convince some hesitant parents to send their children away.
Miguel Cardona, the education secretary, said in a statement Friday that “our top priority is to ensure that students in our country can learn safely in person in their schools and classrooms.”
The new CDC guidelines will help educators achieve that goal, union leaders said.
Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Alliance, the country’s largest teachers’ union, said the guidelines were an “important roadmap to reducing the risk of Covid-19 in schools” in a statement.
Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers who has already pushed for schools to fully reopen this fall, said in her own statement that “the advice confirms two truths: that students learn better in the classroom and that vaccines remain our best bet to stop the spread of this virus.
The new recommendations call for vaccinating as many people as possible, wearing a mask for unvaccinated people in schools, three feet of social distance between students, and layering different preventive tactics.
âFor educators across the country, these guidelines set a floor, not a ceiling; it builds on the evidence we have on the transmission of Covid and reminds us that we must remain committed to other mitigation strategies, âMs. Weingarten said, adding thatâ we share the growing concern about the variant Delta, as well as the evolution of science around Covid transmission among young people, forcing school districts to remain committed to both vaccinations and these safety protocols. “
Studies suggest that the vaccines remain effective against the Delta variant. As of Friday, 55.9% of people 12 and older across the country were fully vaccinated, according to federal data.
The new guidelines also suggest that districts base their approaches on local conditions rather than general prescriptions, an approach Ms. Pringle applauded.
âIt’s important that we pay attention to the unique needs of all of our schools and the communities they serve,â said Ms. Pringle. âWe have a responsibility as a country to address the disproportionate burden suffered throughout this pandemic by communities of color, which has contributed to families being unable or reluctant to have their children return home. in-person instruction. “
Schools have largely proven to be much safer during the pandemic than many had thought, and in general, serious illness and death among children has been rare. Young children are also less likely to pass the virus to others than adolescents and adults.
Meisha Porter, chancellor of schools in New York City, the nation’s largest school system, reiterated that she plans to bring students back for full-time in-person learning in September.
“Science shows that our rigorous, layered approach has made our schools the safest places, and we are reviewing CDC guidelines with our health experts,” Porter said in a statement.
But no vaccines were federally cleared for children under 12, and children accounted for a greater proportion of cases as the pandemic continued, though there are many less cases overall than during the winter peak.
Scientists are worried about an inflammatory syndrome that can appear in children weeks after contracting the virus, even those who were asymptomatic when they were infected, and some children have persistent symptoms often referred to as long Covid.
The highly transmissible Delta variant is spreading rapidly in areas with low vaccination rates – the CDC believes it is now the dominant variant in the United States.
Expert opinion on the new directions was mixed.
Dr. Benjamin Linas, an infectious disease specialist at Boston University, called the suggestions “science-based and right on point.”
âFor the first time, I really think they hit him on the nose,â he said.
Emily Oster, a Brown University economist and author of parenting books who embarked on the controversial reopening debate last year, using data to argue that children should return to school in No one said she was generally happy with the agency’s framework, which she said gave districts a roadmap to reopen without being too prescriptive.
Although she has pushed for even more relaxed guidance – by removing the three-foot rule altogether, for example – she said the new recommendations gave districts significant flexibility.
âThis is, in some ways, the most positive I have been about their advice,â said Dr. Oster.
But Jennifer B. Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, feared the debate among local officials over the best security protocols would prove “crippling.”
At a press conference on Friday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said deciding what action to take had “always been up to local school districts.”
Reporting provided by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Emily Anthes and Sarah Mervosh.