Safe and Healthy Environments

Schools, early childhood programs, and campuses have risen to the challenge of rapidly adjusting educational environments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and in an effort to help protect the health and safety of students, young children, families and caregivers, teachers, early childhood providers, faculty, staff, and the surrounding community. As schools, early childhood programs, and campuses continue to work through the reopening process in collaboration with their community partners, it remains important for practitioners and policy makers to follow the most up-to-date protocols and guidelines for maintaining physical distancing, disinfecting, and sanitizing; implementing proper ventilation, testing, and quarantining; and following other safety measures. This will be an important step to helping ensure a smooth transition from distance learning to full in-person learning or hybrid instruction. Proper precautions and mitigation strategies will remain essential in keeping students, young children, families, teachers, early childhood providers, faculty, and staff healthy and safe during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Image of a health professional giving a teen student the Covid-19 vaccine

Department of Health and Human Services: Back to School Toolkit

This toolkit has resources for school district leaders, teachers, parent leaders, and school supporters who want to help increase confidence in and uptake of COVID-19 vaccines in their school communities, answer questions, and share school guidance about COVID-19. It includes information from the CDC and new, tailored materials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services COVID-19 Public Education Campaign. Available in English and Spanish.

Image of elementary school students wearing masks social distancing

Cohorting / Podding

One strategy to minimize risk of COVID-19 spread in schools is to create small, fixed groups of students who remain together throughout the school day, including for lunch and recess. By implementing cohorts/pods, schools can follow Federal guidelines on physically distancing and reducing the number of children in schools and assist health officials in COVID contact tracing, if needed. When designing cohorts/pods, it is important to create student grouping arrangements based on health and safety data. Groups should not be designed in any way that decreases equity or contributes to issues such as tracking. Instead, groups should be intentionally inclusive, supporting students with disabilities, English learners, and other historically underserved students. All cohort/pod arrangements must comply with applicable civil rights requirements. It is important to note that Cohorting/Podding is one of many reopening mitigation strategies set forth by the CDC K-12 Operational Strategy and should be layered with other mitigation strategies such as masking, handwashing, and cleaning. For full Federal guidelines on properly implementing Cohorting/Podding as a mitigation strategy, refer to the ED COVID-19 Handbook Volume 1: Strategies for Safely Reopening Elementary and Secondary Schools.

The resources on this page share school, early childhood education program, and campus strategies to meet students’ and young children’s social, emotional, mental health, developmental, academic, financial, and other needs. The resources include a specific focus on students furthest from opportunity and from historically underserved communities and on helping to ensure that resources provided by schools, early childhood programs, and campuses will be able to connect with and meet the needs of those disconnected from learning. Teachers, early childhood providers, faculty, staff, schools, districts, early childhood programs, institutions of higher education, other places of educational instruction, and States may use these lessons learned, best practices, and Federal resources to guide their strategies for meeting a diverse array of students’, young children’s, and families’ needs during and after the reopening process.

Return to School roadmap

Return to School roadmap with five circles and one star. The first circle includes a white cross in a red circle icon to represent vaccinations ages 12 plus. The second circle includes a sun icon to represent summer learning. The thrid circle includes a school icon representing safely reopen schools. The fourth circle includes a brain icon to represent mental health support. The fifth circle represents address lost instructional time. And the star includes another school icon.

Landmark 1: Prioritize the Health and Safety of Students, School Personnel, and Families on the U.S. Department of Education’s Return to School Roadmap provides many resources for ensuring student and staff safety at school, along with examples from the field.

Additionally, the Biden Administration has prioritized COVID-19 vaccinations for educators, teachers, and staff, with the goal of vaccinating millions of Americans each day. The Federal Retail Pharmacy Program is designed to help rapidly vaccinate the American public through community partnerships with local pharmacies and plays an integral role in achieving the goal of keeping educators, teachers, and staff safe.

Submit Your Lessons Learned and Best Practices

Have a lessons learned or best practice that focuses on helping to ensure safe and healthy learning environments during the COVID-19 pandemic? Visit the Best Practices Submission page to view details on submission requirements, and then e-mail Bestpracticesclearinghouse@ed.gov to share your lessons learned or best practice.

Provide Feedback

Have feedback to share on a resource accessed on the Clearinghouse site? We want to hear from you. Select the button below to share your feedback with the U.S. Department of Education and the Clearinghouse team.

Submit Your Lessons Learned and Best Practices

Have a lessons learned or best practice for operating PreK-12 schools and school districts safely during the COVID-19 pandemic? Visit the Best Practices Submission page to view details on submission requirements, and then e-mail Bestpracticesclearinghouse@ed.gov to share your lessons learned or best practice.

Provide Feedback

Have feedback to share on a resource accessed on the Clearinghouse site? We want to hear from you. Select the button below to share your feedback with the U.S. Department of Education and the Clearinghouse team.