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 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.

Screenshot of the Western Educational Equity Assistance Center Reopening High School Guide

Reopening Guidance from the Metropolitan State University of Denver

The Western Educational Equity Assistance Center is one of four Regional Equity Assistance Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They offer professional development, technical assistance, and resources to ensure that equitable education opportunities are available and accessible for all children. Their reopening guidance document provides educators with tools to guide the reopening of districts and schools and ensure that all groups of students achieve at high levels.

The resources on this page share school, early childhood program, and campus approaches to implementing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) recommended mitigation strategies on preparing for and sustaining in-person operations safely. The resources include recommendations across all grade and age levels, with a focus both on reopening buildings for the first time and on keeping them open safely. 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 and State guidelines to plan and implement reopening strategies in collaboration with their local and State governments and community partners.

Two students wearing masks doing an elbow greeting in the classroom

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.