Schools and early care and education (ECE) programs are an important part of the infrastructure of communities. They provide safe, supportive learning environments for children and adolescents and employ teachers and other staff. Schools and some ECE programs also provide critical services, including school meal programs and social, physical, behavioral, and mental health services. Schools and ECE programs have other benefits for the community, including enabling parents, guardians, and caregivers to work. In the spring of 2020, kindergarten to grade 12 (K-12) schools and many ECE programs in the United States closed for in-person instruction or care as a strategy to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Reports suggest that the limited in-person instruction during the pandemic may have had a negative effect on learning for children and on the mental and emotional well-being of both parents and children. For schools and ECE programs, the benefits of in-person school and caregiving need to be balanced against the risk of acquiring and spreading SARS-CoV-2 in these settings.
Globally, K-12 schools and ECE programs used various, layered COVID-19 prevention strategies with in-person, hybrid, and virtual models of instruction and care during the 2020-2021 academic year. Their experiences have contributed to our knowledge of the nature of SARS-CoV-2 transmission in schools, ECE programs, and their surrounding communities.
While it is not possible to eliminate all risk of furthering the spread of COVID-19, the current science suggests there are many steps schools can take to reduce the risks to students, teachers, staff, and their families significantly. The TPHS-Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services Plan is a guidance document that contains information on four sets of practices that are highly recommended will minimize the likelihood of viral spread: