Reopening K-12 Schools
Prioritizing Health, Equity, and Communities
Enriqueta C. Bond, Kenne Dibner, and Heidi Schweingruber, Editors
Committee on Guidance for K–12 Education on Responding to COVID-19
Board on Science Education
Board on Children, Youth, and Families
Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and
21st Century Health Threats
A Consensus Study Report of
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This activity was supported by contracts between the National Academy of Sciences and the Spencer Foundation (202100015) and the Brady Education Foundation (unnumbered). Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for the project.
International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-68007-3
International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-68007-7
Digital Object Identifier: https://doi.org/10.17226/25858
Library of Congress Control Number: 2020944328
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Suggested citation: Reopening K–12 Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Prioritizing Health, Equity, and Communities. (2020). Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25858.
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COMMITTEE ON GUIDANCE FOR K–12 EDUCATION ON RESPONDING TO COVID-19
ENRIQUETA C. BOND (Chair), QE Philanthropic Advisors, LLC, Potomac, Maryland
DIMITRI A. CHRISTAKIS, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
MICHAEL LACH, Township High School District 113, Illinois
PHYLLIS D. MEADOWS, The Kresge Foundation, Troy, Michigan
KATHLEEN MOORE, Retired State School Facilities Director, Sacramento, California
CAITLIN RIVERS, Center of Health Security, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland
KEISHA SCARLETT, Seattle Public Schools, Seattle, Washington
NATHANIEL SCHWARTZ, Annenberg Institute for School Reform, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island
JEFFREY VINCENT, Center for Cities & Schools, University of California, Berkeley, California
KENNE DIBNER, Study Director
HEIDI SCHWEINGRUBER, Director, Board on Science Education
LETICIA GARCILAZO GREEN, Research Associate
MATTHEW LAMMERS, Program Coordinator
BOARD ON SCIENCE EDUCATION
ADAM GAMORAN (Chair), William T. Grant Foundation (president), New York, NY
MEGAN BANG, Learning Sciences, Northwestern University
VICKI L. CHANDLER, Dean of Faculty, Minerva Schools at Keck Graduate Institute
SUNITA V. COOKE, Superintendent/President, MiraCosta College
RUSH HOLT, former Chief Executive Officer, American Association for the Advancement of Science
CATHY MANDUCA, Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College
JOHN MATHER (NAS), NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
TONYA MATTHEWS, STEM Learning Innovation, Wayne State University
WILLIAM PENUEL, School of Education, University of Colorado Boulder
STEPHEN L. PRUITT, President, Southern Regional Education Board
K. RENAE PULLEN, K–6 Science Curriculum-Instructional Specialist, Caddo Parish Schools, LA
K. ANN RENNINGER, Social Theory and Social Action, Swarthmore College
MARCY H. TOWNS, Department of Chemistry, Purdue University
HEIDI SCHWEINGRUBER, Director
BOARD ON CHILDREN, YOUTH, AND FAMILIES
DAVID BRITT, M.P.A. (Chair) Retired, Sesame Workshop
HAROLYN M. E. BELCHER, Director, Center for Diversity in Public Health Leadership Training, Kennedy Krieger Institute
RICHARD F. CATALANO, Professor, School of Social Work, University of Washington, Co-founder, Social Development Research Group
TAMMY CHANG, Assistant Professor, Department of Family Medicine, University of Michigan
DIMITRI A. CHRISTAKIS, Pediatrician and Epidemiologist, University of Washington School of Medicine
GREG DUNCAN, Distinguished Professor of Education, University of California, Irvine
NANCY E. HILL, Charles Bigelow Professor of Education, Harvard University
STEPHANIE MONROE, President, Wrenwood Group
JAMES M. PERRIN (NAM), Professor of pediatrics, Harvard Medical School
NISHA SACHDEV, Senior Director of Evaluation, Bainum Family Foundation
MARTÍN J. SEPÚLVEDA (NAM), IBM Fellow, CEO, CLARALUZ LLC
MARTIN H. TEICHER, Director, Developmental Biopsychiatry Research Program, McLean Hospital
JONATHAN TODRES, Professor of Law, Georgia State University College of Law
JOANNA LEE WILLIAMS, Associate Professor, Curry School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia
NATACHA BLAIN, Director
STANDING COMMITTEE ON EMERGING INFECTIOUS DISEASES AND 21ST CENTURY HEALTH THREATS
HARVEY V. FINEBERG (Chair), President, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
KRISTIAN G. ANDERSEN, Department of Immunology and Microbiology, Scripps Research
RALPH BARIC, Department of Epidemiology, University of North Carolina
MARY T. BASSETT, Director, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University
TREVOR BEDFORD, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
GEORGES C. BENJAMIN, Executive Director, American Public Health Association
DONALD M. BERWICK, President Emeritus, Institute for Healthcare Improvement
RICHARD E. BESSER, President and CEO, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
R.A. CHARO, University of Wisconsin Law School
PETER DASZAK, EcoHealth Alliance
JEFFREY S. DUCHIN, University of Washington School of Medicine
ELLEN P. EMBREY, Stratitia, Inc
BARUCH FISCHHOFF, Carnegie Mellon University
DIANE E. GRIFFIN, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
ROBERT M. GROVES, Georgetown University
MARGARET A. HAMBURG, National Academy of Medicine
DAN HANFLING, In-Q-Tel, Inc.
JOHN L. HICK, Hennepin County Medical Center University of Minnesota
KENT E. KESTER, Sanofi Pasteur
PATRICIA A. KING, Georgetown University Law Center
JONNA A. MAZET, University of California, Davis
PHYLLIS D. MEADOWS, The Kresge Foundation
TARA O’TOOLE, In-Q-Tel, Inc.
ALEXANDRA PHELAN, Georgetown University
DAVID A. RELMAN, Stanford University
MARK S. SMOLINSKI, Ending Pandemics
DAVID R. WALT, Brigham and Women’s Hospital
LISA BROWN, Director
When the Committee on Guidance for K–12 Education on Responding to COVID-19 began work on this study in May 2020, we were cognizant of the need to provide immediate, evidence-based guidance to education stakeholders around the nation on reopening schools for in-person learning. In order to offer guidance that would be useful in the planning process in advance of Fall 2020, we prepared a Consensus Study Report on a significantly abbreviated timeline. We could not have predicted the manner in which the discussions around the issue of reopening would explode while we completed this report.
As we discuss in this document, the research on the spread and mitigation of SARS-CoV-2 is expanding rapidly, leading to greater clarity on some topics while also pointing out new areas for investigation. Guidance documents for schools and districts are emerging at breakneck speed. In July 2020, opinion pieces are dominating the news media landscape, many of them staking out positions on either side of a “to reopen or not” debate and making bold claims about what is “safe.” The politics of the moment are ablaze: one need only scan the headlines of U.S. newspapers to uncover the ways the politics around the question of reopening have overshadowed the scientific evidence.
The National Academy of Sciences (now expanded to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine) was chartered by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 to meet the government’s urgent need for an independent adviser on scientific matters. Our organization is founded on the principle that independent guidance based on scientific evidence is essential for making sound policy. Development of that guidance needs
to focus on interpreting scientific research without political influence: essentially, independence is necessary to ensure the integrity of the guidance. Furthermore, as the committee refers to in the Epilogue of this report, we know that evidence and data do not provide policy direction on their own: evidence and data must be interpreted, and these interpretations are never neutral. For this reason, the consensus study process at the National Academies demands that multiple perspectives are brought to bear on the available evidence: while “neutrality” is never possible, including multiple perspectives at the table can support an interpretation of the evidence that reflects the concerns of multiple constituencies and is as independent from individual bias as possible.
The Committee on Guidance for K–12 Education on Responding to COVID-19 has used this consensus study process to make sense of the best available evidence related to the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 while considering the contexts of schools and districts, and how best to maintain the health and well-being of children, school staff, and their broader communities. To the best of our ability, we have attempted to articulate guidance that will support decision-makers in doing the extremely challenging work of understanding and weighing risk, leveraging local assets, and balancing constraints in local resources. We have done this while new evidence is made available daily, and we recognize that the guidance contained in this report will need to be continually revisited as the science emerges around transmission and mitigation. Ultimately, we have written a report that puts science—what we know, as well as what we do not—at the center of the decision to reopen schools.
Given the urgent need for immediate guidance in advance of the impossibly challenging decisions ahead, the committee is acutely aware of the limitations in existing evidence. We know that one size does not fit all, and that every district will need to undertake a process that involves families, administrators, experts, and community leaders in the difficult task of how to redesign and reimagine what schools will look like in these uncertain times. We hope this report can offer support to education stakeholders around the nation as they make these deeply challenging decisions.
Enriqueta C. Bond, Chair
Kenne Dibner, Study Director
Committee on Guidance for K–12 Education on Responding to COVID-19
This Consensus Study Report was reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in making each published report as sound as possible and to ensure that it meets the institutional standards for quality, objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process.
We thank the following individuals for their review of this report: Claire L. Barnett, Executive Director, Healthy Schools Network; Richard E. Besser, President and CEO, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Xavier Botana, Superintendent, Portland School District, Portland, ME; Catherine P. Bradshaw, Research and Faculty Development, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia; David V.B. Britt, Retired President and Chief Executive Officer, Sesame Workshop; Benjamin Cowling, School of Public Health, The University of Hong Kong; Kathryn M. Edwards, Department of Pediatrics, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine; Thomas V. Inglesby, Bloomberg School of Public Health and School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University; Jennifer O’Day, Institute Fellow, American Institutes for Research; Diane S. Rentner, Center on Education Policy, Graduate School of Education and Human Development, The George Washington University; Jerry Roseman, Environmental Science and Occupational Safety and Health, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers; and Megan M. Tschudy, Department of Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Although the reviewers listed above provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations of this report nor did they see the final draft before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Adam Gamoran, President, W.T. Grant Foundation, and Maxine Hayes, School of Medicine and School of Public Health, University of Washington. They were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with the standards of the National Academies and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content rests entirely with the authoring committee and the National Academies.
The committee’s work benefited greatly from multiple outside experts who volunteered generously to share their expertise with the committee (see Appendix A). We especially thank the study sponsors—the Spencer Foundation, the Brady Education Foundation, and the National Academies’ Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats—for their commitment to this work.
It was a great privilege to work with such dedicated committee members who thoroughly engaged in the study and contributed significant time and effort to this very compressed endeavor. This committee was fortunate to work with a diligent and outstanding team of National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine staff: thank you to Kenne Dibner, for her expert direction of this study from beginning to end. We thank Board on Science Education Director Heidi Schweingruber for her visionary leadership in conceiving of this study as well as her steadfast commitment to both substance and detail in all aspects of completing this report. We thank Leticia Garcilazo Green for her excellent work in both research and report production. We thank Matthew Lammers for his invaluable administrative work for this project, and Mary Filardo for her ongoing and insightful contributions as a consultant to the committee. Kirsten Sampson Snyder of the DBASSE staff deftly guided us through the National Academies review process, and Rona Briere and Allie Boman provided invaluable editorial assistance.
Enriqueta C. Bond, Chair
1 K–12 Schools and COVID-19: Context and Framing
2 COVID-19: What Is and Is Not Known
Preliminary History of COVID-19
Disproportionate Impacts on Marginalized Communities
Preliminary Mitigation Efforts
The Multiple Purposes of Schools
Inequity in American Education
Considerations for Opening and Operating Schools During COVID-19
Understanding Risk and Decision Making During COVID-19
A Framework for Deciding When to Reopen Schools for In-Person Learning
Approaches to Collective Decision-Making
Monitoring COVID-19 Conditions
5 Reducing Transmission When School Buildings Are Open
Implementing Mitigation Strategies
Creating a Culture for Maintaining Health
What to Do When Someone Gets Sick
6 Recommendations and Urgent Research
A The Committee’s Review of Existing Evidence
B Guidance Documents Collected by the Committee
C Example District Plans for Reopening Schools