Dept. of Education Return to School Roadmap: What You Need to Know

roadmap to reopening
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona speaks before congress in early 2021. (Image credit: Future)

The U.S. Department of Education recently released its “Return to School Roadmap,” a resource for students, educators, and parents as they prepare for in-person learning this fall. 

Here are some highlights from the roadmap. 

The Return to School Roadmap Emphasizes In-Person Education  

As with recent school guidelines from the CDC, the Return to School Roadmap makes it very clear that returning the nation’s K-12 schools to in-person education is the priority.  “America’s public schools have been steadily reopening for in-person learning, and students are returning to classrooms,” the roadmap notes. “We must continue that progress and provide every student, from every community and background, the opportunity to return to in-person learning full-time this fall.” 

In a statement released with the Return to School Roadmap, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, doubled down on this point. “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,” he said. 

The Return to School Roadmap Focuses on Three “Landmark” Priorities  

The roadmap includes three “Landmark” priorities that the Education Department is encouraging schools, districts, and communities to focus on while making a return to in-person school a reality. These are:  

  • 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 Education Department says it will release resources for educators and parents on each of these priorities and highlight schools and districts who are using innovative practices to meet these priorities. 

The Return to School Roadmap also details ways the American Rescue Plan and other federal funds can be used to address these priorities in schools and communities across the country. 

The Roadmap’s Health and Safety Guidelines Includes Resources on Ventilation  

The American Rescue Plan includes $122 billion for the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund, and the roadmap includes a guide outlining ways that schools can use these funds to protect the health and safety of students, including their mental wellbeing. These include encouraging eligible students to get vaccinated, promoting physical distancing in classrooms, and hiring additional staff including nurses and custodians to provide a healthy environment for learning. 

The guidance also recommends investing in improving ventilation within schools. This is something many public health experts have been urging since the early days of the pandemic. Dr. Joseph Allen, director of Harvard’s Healthy Buildings Program, previously told Tech & Learning that investments in better ventilation will have many health benefits beyond decreasing the risk of COVID in classrooms. “We've known for a long time that things such as higher ventilation rates are associated with better cognitive function and lower infectious disease transmission,” he said. “We see higher ventilation rates associated with higher math scores, higher reading scores, higher science scores.”  

The Return to School Roadmap: Parent Checklist  

The roadmap offers a checklist that parents can use to make sure their student is prepared for school. It advises parents to:

  • make a plan for eligible children to get vaccinated
  • talk to schools about health and safety protocols, including mask wearing, staying home, and getting tested when sick
  • talk to children about COVID safety 
  • make a plan to access safe transportation to and from schools
  • talk to the teacher about their student’s needs

In addition, parents are urged to connect to support if they require assistance with childcare. “The Child Tax Credit in the American Rescue Plan provides the largest Child Tax Credit ever and historic relief to the most working families ever,” the roadmap notes. “As of this month, most families are automatically receiving monthly payments of $250 or $300 per child.”  

Erik Ofgang

Erik Ofgang is a Tech & Learning contributor. A journalist, author and educator, his work has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Smithsonian, The Atlantic, and Associated Press. He currently teaches at Western Connecticut State University’s MFA program. While a staff writer at Connecticut Magazine he won a Society of Professional Journalism Award for his education reporting. He is interested in how humans learn and how technology can make that more effective.