The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) are to be commended for their work to achieve a balanced approach in their guidance to reopening America, with the important and appropriate deference to state and local leaders, who are working day in and day out to guide their states through the pandemic and toward a post-COVID reality.
With a goal of reopening the economy, this guidance focuses on businesses and is premised on the idea that states have the capacity to both readily test people for the highly contagious COVID and trace their contacts to monitor spread, a premise that does not match reality.
Specific to what this guidance means for schools, it is an unfortunate continuation of information that appears to be clear and concise but when applied to the context of schools, is inconsistent and incongruous, at best. While we appreciate the deference to state and local leadership, when it comes to decisions about whether to open or close schools, state and local education leaders rely on the information and experience they have in running school districts day to day, and make any operational decisions beyond that perspective—like those necessary in the context of an unprecedented pandemic—by relying on experts.
In this case, state and local education leaders are looking to the federal government for guidance that is clear, concise and applicable, not guidance that leaves them scratching their heads and wondering, ‘But what does that really mean for schools?’. An excellent example is the continued reliance on the recommendation to avoid social settings with more than 50 people and that large venues can operate under moderate physical distancing protocols. The average American public school will far exceed 50 people—including staff and students—every single day.
In the same breath that the guidance highlights a path forward in opening schools, it establishes a scenario where every single school would be in direct conflict with another recommendation. We are not asking the federal government for a prescriptive mandate or script on how and when to open schools, but we are asking them to use the expertise inherent to their policy experts to ensure the guidance they draft is informative and actionable, empowering state and local leaders to implement it with minimal confusion and with confidence in the science behind it.
It is clear that we are all working toward the same goal, a safe return to economic and academic normalcy as soon as possible, and we call on the administration to continue to improve its guidance to be clear, concise and actionable at every level.