As COVID-19 vaccine distribution becomes more widespread, the CDC shares some guidelines for schools looking to open in-person instruction. Photo by Andrew Hsieh.
Fountain Valley High School

CDC sets guidelines for reopening schools

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines to help schools in the US effectively reopen.

About a year has passed since schools closed and transitioned to distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the meantime, many schools, like those in the Huntington Beach Union High School District, have already reopened either partially or fully. But, others continue to offer only virtual instruction.

Here is a breakdown of the CDC guidelines for reopening and how they compare to the reopening protocol for HBUHSD schools.

Basic strategies and implementation

There are five main prevention strategies that schools should utilize together:

  • proper mask-wearing
  • social distancing
  • washing hands and other hygienic practices
  • contact tracing
  • decontamination

Some of the strategies, like mask-wearing, are straightforward, but the guidelines explain others in greater detail.

For social distancing, students can now be at least three feet apart instead of six, unless there is a high rate of transmission in the community. According to the CDC, this means 100 or more new cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days.

Orange County recently moved to the orange tier, which means there are 1 to 3.9 new cases per 100,000 people per day.

However, six feet should be maintained between students and adults as well as “[d]uring activities when increased exhalation occurs,” according to the guidelines. This includes many school sports and visual performing arts, which should be held outdoors or in well-ventilated areas.

Cohorting, where students are placed in separate groups to reduce possible exposure, is recommended. HBUHSD has already implemented cohorts by having two teams of hybrid students come to school on different days, although students may now go in-person four days a week if they choose.

Schools are mandated to routinely clean surfaces that are often touched, as well as have good ventilation to slow the spread of airborne particles.

At Fountain Valley High School, the classrooms are cleaned every day, according to Principal Dr. Morgan Smith.

If any in-person students or staff experience COVID-19 symptoms, they should immediately get tested. People who test positive or think they are sick must go into isolation while those who have been in close contact with them must quarantine.

In-person HBUHSD students and staff are required to self-screen every day before coming to campus to see if they have any symptoms, such as a cough or a temperature above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. If someone does show symptoms, they should remain home.

The district has been tracking cases among in-person students and staff. The data can be viewed at covid19.hbuhsd.edu.

HBUHSD schools have also used other ways to mitigate the potential spread of the virus, such as offering grab-and-go meals for students instead of serving food in cafeterias.

What’s next

FVHS is planning a return to in-person instruction, possibly with a traditional bell schedule, for the 2021-2022 school year.

“Physical distancing guidelines for desks are currently 3-feet apart so we may see some rooms with a class size limit closer to 30 students versus our contract max of 37 for core academics,” Smith said.

Safety strategies, like mask-wearing and social distancing, could continue. It is unclear yet whether HBUHSD will require students to be vaccinated before returning in-person.