Is it safe enough for kids to return to the classroom?

Two students look are separated by a plastic barrier.
Jackson Hulke (left) and Milagros Larios Tulujan look at each other through a plastic divider at their table in Mrs. Powell's kindergarten class at South Elementary in St. Peter, Minn. Schools across Minnesota opened classrooms back up to students for in-person learning on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. Principal Doreen Oelke said that students and teachers have had many different emotions returning to school, from being scared and nervous to being happy and excited.
Jackson Forderer for MPR News

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a much-anticipated, updated set of guidelines to help school leaders decide if it’s time to bring students back to the classroom. 

It didn’t provide one-solution answers. Instead, it advised a layering of approaches to keep students and teachers safe. The top strategies recommended are: universal and correct wearing of masks; physical distancing; washing hands; cleaning buildings and improving ventilation; and contract tracing.

Missing from that list: vaccines and testing. The CDC says those are recommended but not required for a school to get kids back in the classroom. And that sets up a continuation of the battle between various groups of teachers and parents. 

Some parents want kids back in school and point to research suggesting virtual education hurts student learning and widens the already existing disparity gap. Other parents and some educators say the CDC guidelines don’t go far enough and want asymptomatic testing and vaccines for teachers to be more widespread before kids return to the classroom.

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Wednesday, MPR News host Kerri Miller talked with a local superintendent about what she’s seeing and hearing in her district — and with one of the nation’s leading epidemiologists. Together, they broke down the CDC guidelines and tried to answer the question: Is this the time for kids to return to school?


  • Jennifer Nuzzo is an epidemiologist and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore. 

  • Christine Tucci Osorio is the superintendent of ISD 622 (North St Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale schools).

To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above.

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