Late on Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Department of Education (USDOE) release updated guidance to support school districts as they continue the return to in-person instruction.

CDC’s Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Mitigation is intended to assist schools to open safely and soon. The Operational Strategy, based on available science and data on COVID-19, describes a pathway to in-person instruction using an “integrated package of mitigation components.” The Operational Strategy stresses the importance of testing for COVID-19 to limit transmission and outbreaks as well as vaccination for teachers, school staff and the community as soon as sufficient supply is available. The Operational Strategy links to a variety of existing tools for districts, including CDC’s K-12 Schools COVID-19 Mitigation Toolkit

The Operational Strategy recommends mitigation strategies used in a layered approach:

  • Universal and correct use of masks;
  • Physical distancing;
  • Handwashing and “respiratory etiquette,” such as covering sneezes or coughs, disposing of any tissue used to cover a sneeze or cough, and washing hands after sneezing, coughing or nose blowing;
  • Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities;
  • Contact tracing, isolation and quarantine, in collaboration with local health departments. 

Of these, schools with in-person instruction should prioritize universal and correct use of masks at all levels of community transmission and maximize physical distance to the greatest extent possible. The Operational Strategy notes that, while all mitigation strategies provide some level of protection, using these strategies concurrently, in a layered approach, provides the greatest protection.

The USDOE issued Vol. 1: Strategies for Safely Reopening Elementary and Secondary Schools, of its proposed multi-volume ED COVID-19 Handbook. The USDOE handbook urges continual collaboration among educators and communities, using safety measures outlined by the CDC in the Operational Strategy, to facilitate safe in-person learning for the greatest number of students feasible.

The USDOE handbook includes a summary of the CDC Operation Strategy. It also provides expanded school-specific guidance on the mitigation practices recommended by the CDC, including masking, physical distancing, handwashing and respiratory etiquette. The handbook discusses school specific topics including cohorting and podding to maximize physical distancing, staff and transportation considerations, and safety related to extracurricular and athletic activities.

As noted, the USDOE is planning to expand the handbook with additional volumes of research-based and practitioner informed strategies and examples. Among the topics USDOE is considering are:

  • Social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs of students;
  • Educator and school staff well-being;
  • Lost instructional time and extended learning time;
  • Equitable access to broadband and remote learning devices.

All eleven topics being considered for future volumes are listed on page 2 of the USDOE Handbook. USDOE is seeking comments on the current volume, input on the proposed topics and suggestions of other topics to include in future volumes. Comments should be submitted by March 15, 2021, to

OSBA will continue to monitor the CDC and USDOE for new guidance documents and future volumes to the USDOE Handbook and share them with member districts as they become available.

Posted by Jennifer A. Hardin on 2/16/2021