Photo credit: Allison Shelley for American Education

Fifth grade students sit behind protective shields at socially distant desks.

Photo credit: Allison Shelley for American Education

Fifth grade students sit behind protective shields at socially distant desks.

As educators across California await further instructions from Sacramento to reopen the school, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released a color-coded guide to help school districts determine the conditions under which to offer face-to-face teaching.

The CDC guidelines bear a remarkable resemblance to what California has already put in place. However, this could create more confusion as the color codes do not match the California four-tier system.

In one of the CDC’s strongest statements on the matter to date, the guidelines state: “K-12 schools should be the last to close after all other mitigation measures have been applied in the community and the first to reopen if you can do that for sure. Schools should take precedence over reopening and remain open to face-to-face instruction over non-essential businesses and activities. “

CDC operating strategy for K-12 schools through gradual mitigation, February 12, 2021

Fact sheet summarizing the operating strategy (PDF), CDC, February 12, 2021

CDC Science Brief: Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in K-12 schools, February 12, 2021

California in-person and distance learning map, CDPH, Feb 12, 2021

Despite this strong message, the new guidelines leave important vaccination and testing decisions as voluntary strategies that could be implemented at the discretion of local communities.

The CDC reiterates what Governor Newsom said, saying that vaccinations “should not be viewed as a condition for schools to reopen for personal instruction”. In addition, schools are not required to perform asymptomatic testing of staff and students, although schools can “choose” this “as a strategy to identify cases and prevent secondary transmission”.

As California educators try to digest the new, lengthy CDC guidelines, they also await the outcome of negotiations between Governor Newson and state lawmakers on efforts to build a more robust plan to reopen the school. The key elements of Newsom’s Safe Schools For All plan remain in the balance after being heavily criticized from a number of sources.

A week ago Newsom announced that a revised strategy would be released within days. However, sources say the negotiations were intense and difficult. No announcement was made as of Friday at 1:00 p.m., and none appears to appear today.

The new CDC guidelines for reopening the school take a step-by-step approach based on red, orange, yellow and blue levels. In contrast, California’s plains are purple, red, orange, and yellow. In contrast to California’s plains, where purple is the most restrictive category and red is a little less restrictive, red would be the most restrictive level under the CDC strategy.

As part of the CDC plan, schools in the blue and yellow levels could be opened up to “in-person tuition” in addition to sports and extracurricular activities, provided that strict social distancing and masking practices are followed. In the orange class, K-12 schools could also open, but in a narrower fashion – either through hybrid teaching, with some classes being offered through distance learning and others in person, or through what the CDC calls “reduced attendance”. ”

In the red class, middle and high school students would have to remain in a distance learning mode unless schools can “strictly implement all mitigation strategies”. All sporting and extracurricular activities would have to be carried out virtually.

It will take time and effort to eliminate the differences in the definition of the various color codes by the CDC and California.

The CDC uses similar measures to California to determine which color to assign to a district – the average rate of new infections and the test positivity rate. However, the CDC’s definitions differ slightly. For example, the CDC takes into account the weekly rate of new cases, while California examines the daily cases. A school would be in the red tier on the CDC, which is the purple tier in California if a community has more than 100 weekly new cases per 100,000 and a positive rate of over 10 percent. Under the California system, a school is in the purple zone if there are more than 7 new cases per day and there is an 8 percent positive rating.

In another major development, the California Department of Health released long-awaited information on the extent to which local districts offer face-to-face or distance learning. The maps show that many counties offer face-to-face tuition, but far less for middle schools and even less for high school students.

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