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(WTAJ) — The U.S. Department of Education has released the “Return to School Roadmap,” which supports students, schools, educators and communities as they prepare for in-person learning this fall.

Over the next several weeks as the nation’s schools reopen, the Roadmap will lay out strategies to implement the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated guidance for K-12 schools so they can minimize transmission and sustain in-person learning throughout the school year. 

While the CDC strongly recommends required mask usage for students, faculty and staff, ultimately it will be up to schools to decide what they want to do.

“Over the past year-and-a-half, as a nation, we experienced struggles like never before,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “Now, we must use our renewed strength to focus on what matters most: winning the fight against COVID-19, getting our students back in classrooms for full-time in-person learning—together—and making our education system better than ever before so that all students receive the excellent education they deserve.”

The Roadmap includes three “landmark” priorities for schools, districts, and communities to ensure all students have the best chance for success in the 2021-2022 school year. They include:

  • Prioritizing the health and safety of students, staff and educators
  • Building school communities and supporting students’ social, emotional and mental health
  • Accelerating academic achievement.

As part of the Roadmap, the department will release resources to support these priorities and will highlight schools and districts that use innovative ways to address them.  

Last week, President Joe Biden called on school districts nationwide to host at least one pop-up vaccination clinic over the coming weeks. The administration also directed pharmacies to work with school districts across the country to host vaccination clinics at schools and colleges.

As part of the Roadmap launch, the department released a Roadmap fact sheet, a guide outlining how to protect student health and safety and a checklist for parents as they prepare for their children’s return to in-person learning, with the latter encouraging vaccination for eligible children and masking.  

“I’m proud to be releasing these tools to help make sure students, parents, schools, educators, and communities receive the communication and supports they need to make this academic year a success, and I want all schools this year to lead with a clear focus on health and safety, student wellbeing, and academic acceleration as students return to classrooms nationwide,” said Cardona.

Over the coming weeks, the department will provide additional resources to schools, districts, parents and students, including:  

  • Working with partners across the federal government to provide support to schools and districts. 
  • Holding informational town halls with parents and parent organizations. 
  • Releasing implementation tools for schools, educators, and parents to address the three priorities.
  • Updating the Education Department’s COVID-19 Handbooks to reflect recently updated CDC guidance.  

Cardona and other department officials will be traveling across the country to feature priorities from the Roadmap and highlight schools and communities as they prepare to welcome their students back this fall.