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Opinion: CDC guidelines will mean public schools are at greater risk

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

As schools start to consider the possibility of a fall semester, the CDC(Center for Disease Control) has rolled out new guidelines that schools should consider to prevent the spread of coronavirus. While promoting proper hygiene and wearing masks are fairly simple steps to prevent the spread COVID-19, the list also includes measures such as updating ventilation systems and spacing six feet apart that are unachievable for many schools.

There is no doubt that schools will look very different than they did pre-COVID. However, many are voicing concern on social media over how these guidelines will actually be implemented if students return to school, especially in public schools. Public schools, especially in low-income areas, are increasingly underfunded and are unlikely to be able to fund drastic changes to their school environments. There is already overcrowding in many public schools, and guidelines such as modified layouts would be hard to achieve without major building renovations. For example, spacing desks six feet apart would take up more space than traditional rows or columns, and could possibly mean that more classes would have to be held in order to accommodate a smaller class size. This would require more space and classes that would in turn require increased funding. More classes would also require construction of classrooms that isn’t logistically possible or extending teacher’s hours to an unreasonable amount. Even transportation to schools is being reformed. The CDC says to “create distance between children on school buses” by seating one child in each row and skipping rows. However, buses are already overcrowded in many counties as one-third of counties have consolidated bus routes. More buses or new busing schedules, or even both, would be necessary in order to achieve the CDC guidelines, which could cost school districts.

In addition to modified layouts in schools, money will need to be spent on barriers and guides in order to avoid transmission. Sneeze guards and partitions are being considered for schools who can’t achieve modified layouts. Omaha Public Schools is currently considering multiple ways to return to schools, and their plan includes installing sneeze guards onto desks. While nothing has been finalized from Omaha Public Schools, there is definitely some interest from public schools about barriers rather than modified layouts. In addition, mask requirements are also being considered, despite pushback from parents. However, the CDC has stated that physical barriers aren’t a replacement for social distancing.

Private schools are on average less overcrowded than public schools, and are well-funded from student tuition. Many of the problems with meeting CDC guidelines stem from overcrowding and a lack of funding, and private schools are more likely to be able to overlook these problems. An estimate from the Association of School Business Officials International states that, on average, school districts will have to spend $1,778,139 that they didn’t account for in their budgets in order to reopen schools safely. Many schools are pushing back fall semester start dates in light of Covid-19.

Because of this, underfunded and overcrowded public schools may be more affected than private schools and open later with less resources, sacrificing the education and health of millions of young Americans. It may unfairly put public school students at more risk of COVID-19 spread than their private counterparts. Now, more than ever, schools need to realize the consequences of overcrowding and underfunding schools so that when school starts in the fall, cases don’t drastically increase.


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