What Parents Need to Know About the C.D.C.’s Covid School Guidelines

The agency’s advice on distancing, masks and vaccination brings the coming school year a bit more into focus.

By Emily Anthes and Sarah Mervosh

With less than a month to go before many schools begin reopening for the fall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday released new guidelines for preventing Covid-19 transmission in schools.

The guidelines outline numerous strategies that schools can take to help keep students, teachers and staff members safe, including masking, weekly screening testing and social distancing. But the agency also stressed that schools should fully reopen even if they were not able to put in effect all of these measures.

The agency also left much of the decision-making up to local officials, urging them to consider community transmission rates, vaccination coverage and other factors. This approach won praise from some experts, who said that this more nuanced approach makes sense at this stage of the pandemic — but criticism from others, who said that state and local officials were not equipped to make those judgments and needed clearer guidance.

Here are answers to some common questions about the new guidance.

Can my child go back to school full-time in the fall?

Almost certainly. The new recommendations make clear that reopening schools is a priority and that schools should not remain closed just because they cannot take all of the recommended precautions.

Many families have struggled with remote instruction, which has forced parents to make do without traditional child care and left many children struggling to learn. Preliminary research suggests that the pandemic has widened inequities in education, with students of color falling further behind, compared with white students, and low-income students showing fewer gains, compared with their peers.

“I really appreciated the top-line focus on the most important thing — that we need to have in person learning,” said Dr. Benjamin Linas, an infectious disease specialist at Boston University.

Virtually all of the nation’s major school districts plan to offer regular in-person instruction in the fall, and some are not giving parents a choice. New York City public schools, the nation’s largest school system, will not offer a remote learning option in the fall.

Will they have to wear a mask?

It depends.

The guidelines recommend that children ages 2 or older who are not fully vaccinated should wear a mask indoors — but imply that fully vaccinated students generally do not need to wear masks in the classroom.

But the C.D.C. also notes that some schools may choose to require everyone to wear masks. On Friday, California said it planned to do just that. (At least eight states, on the other hand, have already forbidden mask mandates.)

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