Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) published new “interim guidance” for reopening various sectors of our communities, including schools.  The guidance provides the CDC’s “recommendations to keep communities safe while resuming peer-to-peer learning and providing crucial support for parents and guardians returning to work.”

Interim Guidance on Scaling Up School Operations

The CDC’s interim guidance for schools is laid out in a series of three steps designed to inform a gradual “scaling up” of operations based on the “scope and nature of community mitigation.” For each step, the CDC provides recommendations and safety actions designed to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 as schools begin to reopen.  The interim guidance does not specify how or when a school would advance from one step to another.

Step 1 – Schools that are currently closed, remain closed. E-learning or distance learning opportunities should be provided for all students. Support provision of student services such as school meal programs, as feasible. Camps should be restricted to children of essential workers and for children who live in the local geographic area only.”

Step 2 – Remain open with enhanced social distancing measures and for children who live in the local geographic area only.”

The interim guidance does not address how such restrictions would be applied in the context of magnet schools, inter-district programs or independent schools.

Step 3 – Remain open with distancing measures. Restrict attendance to those from limited transmission areas (other Step 3 areas) only.”

The interim guidance provides recommendations that are specific to each “step.” For example, there are very specific recommendations regarding such matters as the spacing and direction of desks, mixing of student groups, food service operations, restrictions on visitors to schools and numerous other educational functions.  Additionally, there are many measures that are universally applicable to all steps. Those measures include: promoting healthy hygiene practices; intensifying cleaning, disinfection and ventilation; limiting sharing materials; training all staff; checking for signs and symptoms of COVID-19; and planning for when a staff member, student, or visitor becomes sick.

With regard to face coverings in particular, the interim guidance recognizes that “face coverings may be challenging for students (especially younger students) to wear in all-day settings such as school.”  The guidance goes on to recommend that “face coverings should be worn by staff and encouraged in students (particularly older students) if feasible and are most essential in times when physical distancing is difficult.”

Additionally, the CDC explains that the following should be maintained during each step:

  • Establish and maintain communication with local and State authorities to determine current mitigation levels in your community.
  • Protect and support staff and students who are at higher risk for severe illness, such as by providing options for telework and virtual learning.
  • Follow CDC’s Guidance for Schools and Childcare Programs.
  • Provide teachers and staff from higher transmission areas (earlier Step areas) telework and other options as feasible to eliminate travel to schools and camps in lower transmission (later Step) areas and vice versa.
  • Encourage any other external community organizations that use the facilities to also follow this guidance.

Next Steps

The CDC interim guidance is one piece in an evolving puzzle related to the reopening of schools.  The Governor and the Commissioner of Education are engaged in addressing the multitude of considerations associated with the reopening of schools, and we anticipate that guidance from the State concerning these important issues will be forthcoming.

Schools should continue to monitor Executive Orders released by Governor Lamont and guidance from the State Department of Education and relevant state agencies, as they relate to the reopening of schools. For example, Executive Order 7PP, issued on May 18, 2020, provides that:

  • All day camps not operating as of May 5, 2020 shall not begin operations until June 22, 2020. The Connecticut Office of Early Childhood has released Youth Camp Guidance (revised May 18, 2020) that sets forth requirements that must be included in a camp’s plan for operating during the COVID-19 pandemic; and
  • No summer school programs operated by local or regional boards of education shall begin operations until July 6, 2020.  Independent schools and other non-public schools are encouraged to follow the same schedule and guidance.

The Connecticut State Department of Education, Bureau of Special Education, recently released guidance regarding Extended School Year (ESY) programs during the COVID-19 health emergency.  We will address that guidance in a separate post on ctschoollaw.com.

Please continue to monitor ctschoollaw.com or our Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center for updates concerning COVID-19. If you have specific questions about this guidance, please contact any member of our School Law Group.