CDC Director Says Guidelines for Reopening Schools Won’t Change

The CDC is recommending schools have students and teachers wear masks whenever possible, spread desks 6 feet apart, stagger schedules, eat meals in classrooms instead of the cafeteria and add physical barriers between bathroom sinks.

Students practice socially distance by sitting far apart during a graduation ceremony at Millburn High School in Millburn, N.J., on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

(CN) — Despite pressure from President Donald Trump, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday the agency will not loosen school reopening guidelines. 

As the school year rapidly approaches, state and local officials are weighing options intended to keep students, staff and families safe while maintaining effective educational programs during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Though the president does not have explicit authority over what states and individual districts choose to do, he has been publicly ramping up the pressure on officials to reopen schools this fall.

Trump, with the backing of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, threatened to withhold federal funds from those districts that opt for remote learning instead of fully, physically reopening.

“In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS. The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!” Trump tweeted Wednesday. 

He also tweeted that he disagrees with the CDC “on their very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools. While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things. I will be meeting with them!!!”

Later on Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence said new CDC guidelines for school reopenings would be released next week.

“As we work with Congress on the next round of state support, we’re going to be looking for ways to give states a strong incentive and encouragement to get kids back to school,” Pence said.

But CDC Director Robert Redfield pushed back on Thursday during an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America,” saying the guidelines will not be changed and that they are only guidelines, not requirements.

Redfield said additional reference documents will be provided by his agency.

“It’s not a revision of the guidelines, it’s just to provide additional information to help schools be able to use the guidance that we put forward,” he said.

The CDC is recommending schools have students and teachers wear masks whenever possible, spread desks 6 feet apart, stagger schedules, eat meals in classrooms instead of the cafeteria and add physical barriers between bathroom sinks.

The agency said it is working with schools on an individual level to determine the best measures in each circumstance. 

In New York City, for example, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Wednesday that the city’s 1.1 million public school students will not return to their classrooms full-time in September.

States nationwide are cranking out contingency plans, with some including this “blended learning” model that balances in-person and online instruction.

In North Carolina, districts are forming committees of educators to develop different plans for the school year as they await instructions from Governor Roy Cooper.

Redfield the CDC will be issuing additional guidelines next week on face coverings and symptom screenings for schools.

These recommendations will appear in “additional reference documents to aid communities that are trying to reopen K through 12,” he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Thursday. 

At the same coronavirus task force briefing where Pence made his statements on Wednesday, Redfield said,  “I want to make it very clear that what is not the intent of CDC’s guidelines is to be used as a rationale to keep schools closed.”

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