The CDC recently updated its Operational Guidance for K-12 Schools and Early Care and Education Programs to Support Safe In-Person Learning. There are no big surprises as the updated school guidance largely mirrors the latest community guidance. As COVID-19 mitigation becomes less stringent in schools, high-risk students will likely need to request individualized accommodations so they can access in-person instruction safely. The CDC guidance has some good language about schools’ obligations to accommodate students with disabilities, including requiring masking.
Here are some highlights from the new guidance:
Isolation: Stay home for 5 full days from the first day of symptoms or a positive test. You can end isolation after 5 days if you are fever free for 24 hours and other symptoms have improved. The best approach is to take a Rapid Antigen test at the end of the 5 day period, and if it’s positive, continue to isolate. Wear a mask when around others from days 5-10 and avoid being around immunocompromised persons.
Layered Prevention: When the COVID-19 Community Level indicates an increase, particularly if the level is medium or high, schools or ECE programs should consider adding layered prevention strategies.
Response to Outbreaks: If a school or ECE program is experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak, they should consider adding prevention strategies regardless of the COVID-19 Community Level. For example, those with an existing screening testing program may increase the frequency of testing, regardless of the vaccination status of the population. They may also put in place prevention strategies recommended at medium and high COVID-19 Community Levels (for example, masks) even if the community the school or ECE program is located in is at a lower COVID-19 Community Level.
Masking: At a high COVID-19 Community Level, universal indoor masking in schools and ECE programs is recommended. School districts, schools, ECE programs, and classrooms may choose to implement masking requirements at any COVID-19 Community Level depending on their community’s needs – and especially keeping in mind those for whom these prevention strategies provide critical protection for in-person learning.
High-Risk Students: Schools with students at risk for getting very sick with COVID-19 must make reasonable modifications when necessary to ensure that all students, including those with disabilities, are able to access in-person learning. Schools might need to require masking, based on federal, state, or local laws and policies, to ensure that students with immunocompromising conditions or other conditions that increase their risk for getting very sick with COVID-19 can access in-person learning.