The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released its long-awaited road map for getting students back to classrooms amid the lingering COVID-19 pandemic.
That road map should highlight Northeast and North Central Nebraska, where school districts have set an example of how to safely open schools — and keep them open — during a pandemic.
Many of the region’s schools opened as scheduled last fall with only minor hiccups since. In Norfolk, for instance, Lincoln Elementary School closed temporarily after staff members were required to quarantine. While a few sporting events have been canceled because of COVID-19 cases, the majority of games have taken place — including the state wrestling tournament going on now in Omaha.
Overall, schools around the region have shown that in-person schooling can resume safely with masks, social distancing and other strategies — which is exactly what the CDC now recommends. The CDC also says vaccination of teachers, while important, is not a prerequisite for reopening. Many schools have taken other steps as well, including acrylic barriers between students’ desks.
Recommended measures include hand washing, disinfection of school facilities, diagnostic testing and contact tracing to find new infections and separate infected individuals from others in a school. It’s also more emphatic than past guidance on the need to wear masks in school.
“We know that most clusters in the school setting have occurred when there are breaches in mask wearing,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s director.
Those measures generally have been in place in Norfolk and across the region since last fall. In Norfolk, masks initially were optional to begin the school year. Soon after classes began, school board members reversed course and required all students to wear masks. In addition, students have their temperature checked before entering school buildings. For this semester, Norfolk also has offered a remote learning alternative.
There’s wide agreement that learning in the classroom is more effective and that students can face isolation and learning setbacks at home. But there’s disagreement in other parts of the country on whether schools have done enough to reopen.
With government officials estimating that about 60% of K-12 schools right now have some form of in-person learning going on, the new information “affirms what many of us, including students and parents, have known for months: It is critical for schools to open as safely and as soon as possible,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Here, thanks to school administrators, teachers and staff around the region, that’s already been happening for six months.