The national conversation over K-12 schooling in the context of the pandemic continues fervently, including then President-Elect Joe Biden’s December pledge to reopen most school buildings for in-person instruction as swiftly as possible. New evidence from parent surveys provides an updated snapshot on how current schooling modes match parent preferences, and the CDC released much-anticipated updated guidance for the safe return to in-person schooling.
Parent Perspectives on Schooling
A new survey, conducted in January and February, provides the latest insights on parents’ preferences and perspectives on schooling during the pandemic. Recent results from the University of Southern California’s Understanding America Study, analyzed for this Chalkbeat article, suggest that:
- 75% of parents reported that their children’s current schooling mode matched what they would want “if they could choose any option,” similar to parents’ reports in November 2020 (70%).
- Parents prefer remote learning by a slight margin—roughly 42% as compared to 36% for fully in-person school and 21% for a hybrid model.
- Of those parents whose preferences do not match their children’s current mode of schooling, 15% of parents wanted more in-person instruction, while 10% preferred less.
New CDC Guidance on School Reopening
The CDC published revised guidelines for K-12 schools on February 12, 2021. While both highlighted the importance of community transmission levels to the spread of COVID-19 in schools and provided various mitigation strategies for schools based upon community transmission levels (e.g., moving to a hybrid model if community transmission is “highest”), The new recommendations continue to emphasize the importance of community transmission levels for safe in-person schooling, but provide more detail for schools’ decisions. The new guidance highlights community transmission levels as a first step in determining how and when to reopen and revises the “goalpost indicators” for when to implement mitigation strategies. Primary differences in the new indicators include:
- A shift to tracking certain indicators more frequently: the CDC now recommends using total new cases per 100,000 population in the past seven days instead of the past 14 days.
- Consolidation of categories for characterizing community transmission rates: the new guidelines have four (low, moderate, substantial, and high) rather than five.
- An update to the terminology for the recommended COVID-19 diagnostic tests: instead of RT-PCR (reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction) tests, the CDC now calls for nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs).
The guidance emphasizes that K-12 schools should be the last settings to close and the first to reopen when that can be done safely, deploying all appropriate mitigation measures and prioritizing in-person instruction over nonessential businesses and activities.