Vaccinated students can head to in-person classes without a mask this fall, while unvaccinated students should mask up, according to new CDC guidance for grades K through 12. The same applies to teachers. States are not obligated to follow the advice and can implement their own policies, notes CNBC. The CDC's Erin Sauber-Schatz, who oversaw the guidance, says it will be up to schools "to decide if and how they're able to document vaccination status," per the Washington Post. The new guidance offers some flexibility as part of a "layered" approach to COVID-19 prevention that includes screening, contact tracing, ventilation upgrades, and keeping students home when sick. It calls for 3 feet between unvaccinated students in classrooms but says "schools should not exclude students from in-person learning to keep a minimum distance requirement."
The guidelines note "in-person learning is a 'priority' ... regardless of whether all prevention strategies can be implemented." But Sauber-Schatz says the "safest" option is to have a universal mask requirement in schools. Masks are also recommended for all bus drivers and passengers regardless of vaccination status, per ABC News. Remarking on the spread of the Delta variant in the US, Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, says it's important that schools "consistently and rigorously" adopt all recommendations, including "requiring masks in all settings where there are unvaccinated individuals present, and ensuring adequate ventilation, handwashing, and cleaning." Currently, children as young as 12 are eligible for COVID vaccinations, notes the AP. (Read more Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stories.)