At the same time, many parents in urban districts, particularly poor and nonwhite parents, remain hesitant to send their children back to school even if given the option, out of fear that their children can get sick and possibly bring home the virus.
Schools have reopened partially or are starting to reopen in New York City, Chicago, Boston and other cities. But conflict between elected officials who support reopening and teachers’ unions seems likely to continue in places like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland, Ore., despite the new guidelines.
School district leaders have long asked for clearer guidelines from the federal government on how they should make decisions during the pandemic. The C.D.C.’s advice comes as a relief to many experts who have been frustrated at the low priority given to schools in local reopening plans.
“It’s not saying if you open schools again,” said Helen Jenkins, an infectious disease expert at Boston University and an adviser to the public schools district in Cambridge, Mass. “It’s saying, ‘You are going to open schools again, and this is how to do it,’ which I appreciate.”
The agency’s approach struck the right balance between the risks and the benefits of in-person instruction, said Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“We have accumulated a tremendous amount of harms from not having schools open,” Dr. Nuzzo said. “This document is important in trying to couch the risks in relation to those harms, and try to paint a path forward.”
The C.D.C. encouraged elementary schools to remain open regardless of virus levels in the surrounding community, pointing to evidence that young children are least likely to be infected or to spread the virus. Middle schools and high schools should switch to virtual learning only when community transmission of the coronavirus reaches the highest level, the agency said.