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As CDC Posts Chart to Guide School Reopenings, Some Call for More Guidance

By Evie Blad — May 15, 2020 2 min read
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Update: The CDC has since released more specific guidance.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released a “decision tree” to guide decisions about reopening schools amid the coronavirus pandemic.

But the one-page graphic, posted Thursday night, still leaves unanswered questions for education groups that have called for more detailed federal guidance on the issue.

The chart—part of a series of decision trees for different businesses and public settings—guides school school leaders through a list of factors like their ability to screen students and staff for illness, to protect vulnerable people who are at higher risk, to encourage social distancing in buildings, and to monitor issues like student absences. (Click on the snapshot below for a full-size version).

The new graphic does not address questions about seemingly conflicting parts of previously announced White House guidance on “reopening the country.”

That guidance calls for states to ease restrictions in a phased approach only after they ensure they have adequate testing, tracing, and hospital surge capacity and only after they’ve seen declining rates of the virus for 14 consecutive days. Schools would reopen in the second phase, after 28 days of declines.

Education groups have said schools need more direction than the document provides, noting that it calls for schools to reopen in the same phase it cautions against crowds of more than 50 people.

At a hearing this week, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said the federal direction on reopenings is “criminally vague.”

Murphy pressed Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on reports that administration officials had shelved more specific guidance than what was included in the White House directive. That shelved report, originally reported by the Associated Press, also included more detail than the decision tree posted this week.

On the other hand, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said decisions should be made at a district level. He questioned why schools need to be closed in a blunt exchange with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s chief epidemiologist.

States have started planning for fall reopenings, but district leaders still have many unanswered questions about how to avoid crowds on school buses and in cafeterias and what level of coronavirus testing is necessary to monitor community spread.

Representatives of education groups tweeted their reactions to the new decision tree Friday morning, saying it lacks some information schools need to safely reopen.

“For guidance like this to be really helpful and meaningful, it has to be actionable and applicable,” tweeted Noelle Ellerson Ng, the associate executive director of AASA, the School Administrators Association. “This remains too vague to truly inform decisions.”

Photo: Servepro employee Joseph Felks cleans chairs and other items at Joyner Elementary School in Tupelo, Miss., March 11. --Thomas Wells/The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal via AP

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