COVID-19 health recommendations for K-12 schools

Pediatric infectious diseases expert discusses the Centers for Disease Control’s in-person learning guidelines for the 2021 school year.

Editor's Note: The information published in this story is accurate at the time of publication. Always refer to for UAB's current guidelines and recommendations relating to COVID-19.

Boys and girls sitting at desks, raising hands.To combat the risk of COVID-19 and keep students in class, Kimberlin says the Centers for Disease Control’s health and safety recommendations provide a roadmap.Alabama schools are set to start in less than a month, and some will be transitioning to full-time, in-person learning for the first time since March 2020. A University of Alabama at Birmingham and Children’s of Alabama pediatric expert discusses health recommendations for school districts to follow to maximize the health and safety of students, teachers and staff during the 2021 school year.  

David Kimberlin, M.D., co-director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at UAB and Children’s, says that recognizing where individual counties as well as the state and country are, with regard to COVID-19 numbers, hospitalizations and vaccination rates, is the first step for school districts to take when preparing for the upcoming year. 

“While we are better than we were a year or even six months ago, we are not in as good a place as we were four to six weeks ago,” Kimberlin said. “May and June may be seen as a honeymoon period as COVID numbers are going up across the board while vaccination rates plateau and masking is relaxed.”

Vaccination rates remain low even as the Delta variant has become the dominant strain in Alabama and the United States. According to Kimberlin, the Delta variant is about twice as easily spread from person to person than the original form of the virus that started sweeping the globe early last year. This adds an additional risk to in-person K-12 learning as students younger than 12 are currently ineligible to receive the vaccine. 

Read how to talk to your children about the COVID-19 vaccines here.

To combat this risk and keep students in class, Kimberlin says the  Centers for Disease Control’s health and safety recommendations provide a roadmap.

“Our children need to be in school for the social and emotional aspect of development,” Kimberlin said. “However, we need to do so safely. Vaccination, masking and social distancing will help keep children and those in the schools safe, while continuing a quality education.” 

CDC recommendations for K-12 schools include:

  • All students, teachers and staff who are eligible (12 years and older) get vaccinated.
  • All teachers, staff, students and visitors should wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
  • Schools should maintain 3 feet of physical distance between students within classroom and indoor settings.
  • Students, teachers and staff should stay home if they have signs of any infectious illness and be referred to their health care provider for testing and care.

Kimberlin noted that the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Alabama Department of Public Health have also recommended universal masking in schools.

Kimberlin and the CDC also reiterate the importance of continuing to layer health precautions such as masks, screening tests, handwashing, staying home when sick, extra cleaning and disinfecting, and quarantining and isolating to provide extra protection for students younger than 12. 

“The CDC fully endorses the return to in-person learning,” Kimberlin said. “In order to safely get students into the classroom, and keep them there, it is imperative schools follow these health and safety recommendations. Recommendations may change as the school year gets underway, in response to what the virus is doing in communities across the country.” 

Read the full list of CDC recommendations here.