K-12 Schools Returning In-Person During COVID-19

Marcella Slay

Associate Editor

Loyola University School of Law, JD 2021

During February 2020, COVID-19 hit the United States and disrupted many lives all throughout the country. Many states shut down most businesses, stores, and restaurants except for all essential services. By March, schools were forced to create unconventional forms of teaching methods for the remainder of the school year such as e-learning and sending students lesson packets for the week. As the school year approaches, many school districts are still determining their instruction mode for the upcoming school year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided guidelines to reopening schools and advised school districts to work closely with local and state health officials to determine the best practices for reopening.

Reopening plans

Many schools are making decisions on whether to open their doors regularly, create hybrid plans, or start e-learning daily. While school districts alert parents and teachers of their decisions, the outcome is still subject to change as the virus continues to spread. Schools in multiple states such as Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee have resumed in-person classes. However, many schools that reopened have since closed after reported outbreaks. Many schools in larger metropolitan areas have decided to conduct e-learning for at least the first few weeks of school and will determine what instruction method will be best after that time.

In deciding whether to resume in-person learning, it is important to weigh the importance of educating the children and the risk of exposure to the virus, which has proven to be difficult. Many governors have announced schools in their states will have in-person learning while others have announced it is dependent on the amount of confirmed cases within the state. Creating social-distanced in-person learning that also complies with CDC guidelines will also be very expensive to implement. Many schools will need additional funding to operate and this will also affect the ultimate decision of whether e-learning would be the best option.

CDC guidelines for in-person learning

The CDC provides guidelines for school administrators to follow when planning for in-person learning. Although schools play a unique and critical role in society, the CDC advises administration to look at their community transmission data when deciding to conduct in-person instruction. Key considerations for school administrators include implementing concurrent mitigation strategies in school to prevent the spread of the disease such as face coverings and constant cleaning, communicating effectively with families about home-based screening, working with state and local health officials to develop the best plan in the event there is a positive case, and developing methods of cohorting to prevent the spread of the virus.

 As schools have begun in-person instruction, school outbreaks have occurred. The CDC has thus stressed the importance of being prepared for a positive case and having a plan to prevent the spread. To characterize the risk by model of instruction and implementation of the mitigation strategies, the CDC uses a stratification, which ranges various school activities from lowest risk to highest risk. Providing the stratification will give administrators an idea as to how some practices may provide more risk than others. All the guidelines provided by the CDC are made to help administrators promote behaviors that reduce COVID-19’s spread, maintain healthy environment, maintain healthy operations, and prepare for when someone gets sick.

Status of Illinois schools

Although the CDC provides guidelines for administrators planning to start in-person instruction, it is very important for schools to follow the state and local health officials’ guidelines. Illinois is currently in Stage 4 of reopening. J.B. Pritzker’s reopening plan allows schools and day cares to reopen, subject to the guidance of the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and IDPH have collaborated to create Illinois Joint Guidance for the upcoming school year which incorporated many of the CDC guidelines. The IDPH also provides Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on their website with constant updates regarding new policies and recommendations for schools.

Many Illinois school districts have decided to use hybrid school schedules while others have decided to have e-learning for the fall. As the number of positive cases continue to rise within the state, school districts may decide to alter their reopening plans soon. IDPH continues to closely watch the CDC for updates on the virus and change their guidelines accordingly.

COVID-19 has changed educational instruction at all levels and have caused school districts around the country to adjust their instruction methods in accordance with the CDC guidelines and state boards of education. As many students return to school this fall, administrators and parents will be faced with many challenges. School districts will continue to roll out their reopening plans and may adjust existing plans as transmission data continues to change. It is most important for school districts to prepare a plan in accordance with the CDC guidelines and continuously update their protocols to keep administrators, teachers, students, and the community safe.