Overview of the Readiness Guide

This reopening readiness guide was created to help build a shared understanding of school reopening challenges and strategies and is based upon the following tenets:

  • Information and best practices will evolve as communities learn more. This information and the decisions it informs may change as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds and the science advances. This guide is intended to offer the best available information at the time of its release and updates. Existing data about the risk of COVID-19 transmission by children is incomplete, and in some instances conflicting. This guide’s content is based on the current assumption that older students are as likely to spread the virus as adults and require safety precautions similar to those for adults. This guide highlights implementation options and best practices for key public health strategies that have been shown to reduce the risk of COVID-19.

  • Education and health are not conflicting interests, but instead, are dependent on each other. Students and teachers learn and teach best when they are safe and healthy. Mitigating risk while maximizing learning and wellbeing will require the best thinking from both sectors. While feasibility, logistics, and the limits of resources and science will require compromise and risk, leaders can use this guide to help students, school personnel, parents, and other caregivers understand decisions aimed at reducing viral spread and keeping schools safe for in-person learning.

A Balanced View of Risk: The decisions around the return to school must reflect a global view of risk. We must balance the risks of COVID-19 infection with in-school learning, with other significant risks to the overall health and well-being of our kids when they are out of school. The center of this graphic shows an atom graphic, covered by the words: COVID-19 Risk - Children under 10 tend to have milder cases of COVID-19 and current research suggests they spread the virus less than adults (9). Emerging research indicates that children 10 to 19 may transmit the virus similarly to adults (10). Around the atom, there are 6 symbols: a head with two puzzle pieces beside the words Loss of learning: Students could return in the fall already behind due to lack of in-person education, with up to 30% less reading learning and up to 50% less math learning compared to gains during a typical school year (1); an icon of a person in a large circle - Social and emotional impact: In a US survey, 29% of parents said their children's emotional and mental health were suffering due to social distancing and closures (2). Additionally, 13% of adolescents in the US receive mental health care from their schools, with school being the only source of support for 35% of those children (3); an icon of a person shouting at a person who has their head bowed: Reduced detention of child abuse - Teachers serve as mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect. Hospitals across the country saw increases in child abuse injuries and deaths that coincided with lockdown orders (4); an icon of a "low" battery - Lack of access to essential services: Across the US, about 1.5 million children have a diagnosed speech impairment (7) and approximately 1 in 54 children have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (8). These children, and others that require specialized supports, may have missed speech therapy and critical development services they previously received at school; an icon of a briefcase with a 'no' sign next to it - Loss of parental employment: Parents may be unable to work if they can't find childcare options to replace school. Recent research suggests that if schools and daycares remain closed, 17.5 million workers, or 11% of the US workforce, may face major barriers to work (6); an icon of a fork and a knife - Nutritional insecurity: Some students depend on free/reduced-price meals provided in schools. Estimates suggest there will be an additional 1.2 to 6.8 million food insecure children in 2020 than there were in 2018 (5).
  1. Kuhfeld and Tarasawa. (2020). The COVID-19 slide: What summer learning loss can tell us about the potential impact of school closure on student academic achievement. Collaborative for Student Growth.
  2. Calderon. (2020). “U.S. Parents Say COVID-19 Harming Child's Mental Health” Gallup.
  3. Robson. (2020). “From their academic success to their social skills and mental health, the pandemic is a crisis for today’s children – and the fallout may follow them for the rest of their lives.” BBC.
  4. Kamenetz. (2020). “With School Buildings Closed, Children’s Mental Health Is Suffering.NPR.
  5. Feeding America. (2020). “The Impact of the Coronavirus on Child Food Insecurity.Feeding America.
  6. Dingel, Patterson, and Vavra. (2020).Childcare Obligations Will Constrain Many Workers When Reopening the US Economy. Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at The University of Chicago.
  7. Mitchell. (2020). “As Schools Close to Coronavirus, Special Educators Turn to Tele-Therapy.” Education Week.
  8. National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. (2020). “Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  9. Wilson. (2020). Coronavirus: What does evidence say about schools reopening?; Boast, Munro, and Goldstein. (2020). An Evidence Summary of Paediatric COVID-19 Literature. Don’t Forget the Bubbles.; Boulad, F., Kamboj, M., Bouvier, N., Mauguen, A., & Kung, A. L. (2020). COVID-19 in Children With Cancer in New York City. JAMA Oncology.; Li, W., Zhang, B., Lu, J., Liu, S., Chang, Z., Cao, P., ... & Chen, J. (2020). The characteristics of household transmission of COVID-19. Clinical Infectious Diseases.; Lee, B., & Raszka, W. V. (2020). COVID-19 Transmission and Children: The Child is Not to Blame. Pediatrics.; Munro, A. P., & Faust, S. N. (2020). Children are not COVID-19 super spreaders: time to go back to school. Archives of Disease in Childhood.; Ludvigsson, J. F. (2020). Children are unlikely to be the main drivers of the COVID‐19 pandemic–a systematic review. Acta Paediatrica.; Ludvigsson, J. F. (2020). Systematic review of COVID‐19 in children shows milder cases and a better prognosis than adults. Acta Paediatrica, 109(6), 1088-1095.
  10. Park, Y. J., Choe, Y. J., Park, O., Park, S. Y., Kim, Y. M., Kim, J., ... & Lee, J. (2020). Contact Tracing during Coronavirus Disease Outbreak, South Korea, 2020. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 26(10).
  • A comprehensive and balanced view of health and educational risks and benefits is key to decision-making about in-person school reopening. In weighing the health risks of reopening, it is important to consider risks associated with school closures. Health, educational, and other risks may shift rapidly and will require ongoing assessment and decision-making. When community rates of COVID-19 transmission increase significantly, infection risks may outweigh risks associated with school closures. When community transmission rates are stable and generally low, non-COVID-19 related health, mental health, and educational risks can be more heavily weighted in reopening decisions.

This guide is meant to be used throughout your planning process to reassess readiness and update your plan. Readiness is the degree to which resources, infrastructure, personnel, knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, and skills are in place to successfully implement a plan or intervention. Readiness can be assessed along a continuum. Because readiness changes over time with evolving internal and external conditions and contexts, it should be regularly reassessed. Literature at times defines readiness as being ready for whatever the next step might be. Even if you aren’t “ready” overall, you can be ready for the next step, and reassess your readiness again after you have taken it. Schools will monitor reopening risks and benefits closely, and will pivot from in-person to hybrid or all remote learning accordingly, which means your schools “readiness” may shift. The ability to “see around corners” is sometimes cited, and you may find it helpful to plan for the best, worst, and most likely scenarios. Your efforts to hope for the best, plan for the worst, and prepare for anything will likely reassure the people who count on your leadership.

This guide is meant to fit within state and federal guidelines on school reopening. It is not a replacement for them, nor does it constitute formal guidance about exactly what school districts should or should not do, or whether schools should open in a particular district at a particular time given local COVID-19 transmission rates and trends. It is also not an exhaustive review of the scientific literature. Instead, it outlines a set of core public health principles to consider when approaching safe school reopening, and a set of related implementation options for you to consider applying to your own context. This information reflects the available research at the time the guide was last revised. Given that scientific details, policies, and knowledge change constantly, new data may emerge that require updates to this guide. We cannot warrant the full accuracy or completeness of the options in this report and assume no responsibility for any injury or damage to persons or property arising out of or related to any use of the report or for any errors or omissions.

How this Guide Is Organized

This guide is organized by health principles and corresponding objectives. Under each objective, you will find:

  • Key recommendations with concrete guidance for each objective based on existing research and the emerging evidence base.

  • Starting point tools which offer tips and links.

  • Considerations and questions for team decision making and reflection include management-level planning questions, examples and suggestions.

  • Other resources organized into four categories, represented by different icons which are described below.

Resource Icons

Each icon indicates the source of the information included in this guide. Information currently available to guide school reopening is growing rapidly, yet gaps and uncertainties still remain. We strive to be clear about these limitations and will remain transparent when new information prompts a change in course. We describe considerations about the reliability of sources to help you manage stakeholders’ expectations about your decisions and to help you build their understanding of the challenges we all face together.

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Examples from other districts, counties, states, and countries

While these examples can be useful in generating insights and innovations, conditions in other counties, states, and countries vary widely. Strategies that may appear reasonable and successful in one context may not apply to your setting if conditions are significantly different.

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Ideas proposed by other educational leaders

Although these ideas may spark insights and innovations, they emerged in settings that may be different from yours. In addition, leaders may experience widely varying pressures and supports. They may be working in communities where health and education interests are seen as conflicting , rather than interdependent and mutually reinforcing.

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Findings from scientific literature

Although we must base our decisions on the best available evidence, some findings may be subject to change. With the rush to quickly learn as much as we can, some studies may draw conclusions that may not be fully justified by the methods used, and may be subsequently questioned. In addition, the findings of research undertaken in one state or country may have limited application to other settings with different risks and resources. It is critical to understand how we can best interpret scientific findings and use them to serve society, especially in times of crisis.

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Guidelines from major health organizations

Major health organizations attempt to amass and interpret the best available evidence on which to base their guidelines. They are also subject to the limitations of current research and to political and logistical pressures. While guidelines from these organizations strive to provide the most up to date guidance, they may lag behind current practice in this rapidly changing landscape. They are not necessarily the only source of recommended health guidance.