Story at a glance

  • Officials and experts are worried that children are falling behind in their education while learning from home during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have established a set of guidelines for returning to full-time, in-person learning without additional restrictions.
  • A New York Times analysis found that only 4 percent of schoolchildren could return to school safely under current public health recommendations.

As the vaccine rollout remains limited, a return to normal is looking more and more unlikely — at least by the end of this school year.  


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Under the guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 4 percent of the nation’s schoolchildren live in counties where coronavirus transmission is low enough for full-time, in-person learning without additional restrictions, according to a New York Times analysis of the agency’s latest figures. 

In addition to implementing mitigation strategies within schools, the CDC calls for less than 50 new cases per 100,000 people in the past week as a measure of moderate to low community transmission before children can return to school full-time. The agency acknowledges in-person instruction is a priority, especially considering the disproportionate disadvantage of remote learning on low-income and minority students, and calls for schools to be the first community institutions to reopen. But public health experts believe younger students are likely to have less risk of in-school transmission than older students, suggesting a phased opening. 


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A map by The New York Times shows where cases are low enough for elementary schools to fully open for both full in-person learning (in several states out west, including Iowa and Nevada) and hybrid learning (in much of the East Coast and Midwest). For middle and high schools, the map shows a majority of the country is still recommended to continue remote learning full-time. 

This means it's all the more unlikely that students will be back in school full-time before this summer, although some districts are considering extending the school year due to lost in-class instruction time. Still, some states are disregarding the CDC’s guidelines and reopening against the advice of public health experts. Arkansas, Florida, Iowa and Texas have all ordered all schools to open, although several counties in these states don't meet CDC guidelines. 


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Published on Mar 02, 2021