Some schools are closing because of coronavirus —here's what the Department of Education is saying

A woman walks past SAR High School which has been shut down due to Coronavirus in the Bronx borough of New York City, New York, U.S., March 3, 2020.
REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Schools across the country from Oregon to Rhode Island have begun to cancel classes among growing COVID-19, or coronavirus, fears. 

On Monday, at least a dozen schools in the greater Seattle area canceled classes and on Tuesday, at least two New York high schools announced they had as well. Schools such as SAR Academy and SAR High School in New York have maintained that these closures are precautionary measures. 

The most recent information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that at least 60 people in the U.S. have been confirmed to have the virus so far. 

While the CDC states that the immediate health risk for the general American public is low, they predict that more cases will be identified in the coming days.

"Widespread transmission of COVID-19 would translate into large numbers of people needing medical care at the same time. Schools, childcare centers, workplaces, and other places for mass gatherings may experience more absenteeism," says the CDC's statement.

The Department of Education has emphasized that schools will play a role in handling the spread of coronavirus.

"Health officials are currently taking steps to prevent the introduction and spread of COVID-19 ('Coronavirus') into communities across the United States. Schools can play an important role in this effort," reads a Department of Education webpage on the topic. "Through collaboration and coordination with State and local health departments, State and local educational agencies, other education officials, and elected officials, schools can disseminate critical information about the disease and its potential transmission to students, families, staff, and community. Schools can prepare to take additional steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19, should State and local health officials identify such a need." 

Additionally, the Department of Education advises schools to continue promoting the following everyday disease prevention strategies:

  • If you are sick, stay home from school.
  • Avoid close contact with those who are already sick.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing with a tissue or the crook of your arm.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Consult this web page for further guidance from the U.S. Department of Education.
Signs announcing a closure and cancelled activities are pictured at Ferrucci Junior High School after two schools were closed for cleaning due to flu-like symptoms of a relative in Puyallup, Washington, U.S. March 2, 2020.
REUTERS/Jason Redmond

Ultimately, Department of Education officials recommend that schools defer to a CDC guidance that provides information for both schools that do, and do not, have identified cases of coronavirus within their communities. 

For the majority of schools that do not have any identified case of coronavirus, the CDC says the most important thing schools can do is "plan and prepare," by reviewing emergency operation plans, promoting healthy handwashing, monitoring for absent students and staff and sharing information with local officials.  

For schools that have identified cases of coronavirus, the CDC says the first step is to "determine if, when, and for how long childcare programs or schools may need to be dismissed," indicating that school closures may be recommended for 14 days or longer. 

If schools do close, the CDC recommends that they also cancel extracurricular group activities and large events and discourage students and staff from gathering. 

Importantly, the CDC emphasizes that schools should take steps to ensure continuity of education, health and meal programs for students who need them and that they protect students and staff from bullying stating, "School plans should be designed to minimize disruption to teaching and learning and protect students and staff from social stigma and discrimination. Plans can build on everyday practices (e.g., encouraging hand hygiene, monitoring absenteeism, communicating routinely) that include strategies for before, during and after a possible outbreak."

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