Understanding Coronavirus (COVID-19): What Schools Need to Know

Last updated: March 16, 2020

This webpage is intended to help independent schools prepare and respond to the 2019 coronavirus (COVID-19), which has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). The U.S. government has issued a federal emergency declaration. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been issuing guidance on a rapid basis including recommended bans on mass gatherings and large community events,  how to keep schools and workplaces safe, engage in social distancing and protect high risk individuals, and conduct  cleaning and disinfection. There is also CDC guidance focused on higher education and K-12 (including considerations for school closings). 

State and local governments are declaring states of emergency and public health emergencies as warranted, as well as limiting large gatherings, mandating or urging school closures, and mandating or urging the closure of other public spaces such as bars and restaurants. Information about health departments is available here. As the situation is rapidly changing, this page will be updated as additional information and resources become available.

**Watch a video recording of the special coronavirus (COVID-19) session held at the NAIS Annual Conference. Presenters, including NAIS President Donna Orem, NAIS Legal Counsel Megan Mann, NAIS Vice President of Media Myra McGovern, and Madeleine Hewitt, executive director of Near East South Asia Council of Overseas Schools, provided information about independent school preparation and response.

The Independent School Coronavirus Response Webinar Recording, from NAIS, TABS, EMA, NBOA, and SAIS, also covers these issues and more. 

NAIS has also compiled questions from the field and offers responses in COVID-19 FAQ Guidance Document. As inquiries and ideas arise from our schools, we will update this document and indicate the date last updated at its top.** 

Scroll down or click on these links for additional information:  

Background Information About COVID-19

The WHO website is an excellent resource for information about the virus as well  as general information on the coronaviruses (CoV) family of viruses; this very brief video explains the virus, and this brief infographic includes best practices for prevention of infectious disease including coronavirus. This animated cartoon from NPR is designed to explain coronavirus to children. 

This interactive from Johns Hopkins University provides details on the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, total deaths, and the number of people who’ve recovered, by city. 

The Department of Labor has information regarding the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and general employee obligations around health and safety as it pertains to COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website is also a resource for updates on COVID-19 (including general travel tips and advice on traveling to affected areas) as well as general information on COV and updates to public health risks and responses. It covers symptoms and diagnosis, transmission, prevention and treatment, guidance for mass gatherings and community events, guidance for K-12 schools (which includes information for administrators, information on cleaning and disinfection recommendations, and considerations for school closure), guidance for foreign exchange programs (higher ed focused), guidance for higher risk individuals, and information on how to keep workplaces/schools/homes safe. For the latest guidance, see the “What’s New” section on the CDC COVID-19 page.‚Äč

General Travel Planning (CDC and State Department Warning and Travel Advisory Systems) 

It is critical to consistently check and evaluate travel guidance from trusted sources, including the CDC and the U.S. State Department. At this time, the CDC has information regarding the different warning levels for travel. Warning Level 3 countries are locations where the CDC recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel. Alert Level 2 countries are areas that are experiencing sustained community transmission of respiratory illnesses, areas to which older adults and those with chronic conditions should consider postponing travel. Watch Level 1 countries are regions where the CDC does not recommend canceling or postponing travel at this time. 

The State Department Travel Advisories system, which ranges from Level 1: Exercise Normal Precautions to Level 4: Do Not Travel, can be found here

Along with the State Department, the CDC urges all individuals to avoid cruise ship travel. In its latest notice, the CDC asks those who were on a cruise ship in the past 14 days to limit interactions with other people for 14 days; and, if a case of COVID-19 was reported on the ship during the person’s cruise, to stay home and practice social distancing.

As of March 11, 2020, the State Department has issued a Global Level 3 health advisory and is advising U.S. citizens to reconsider travel abroad throughout the world. 

Travel Restrictions (Beyond Warning Levels)

At this time, the United States has established specific travel restrictions and protocols for people who have been in China recently. Specifically, foreign nationals (other than permanent residents and immediate family of U.S. citizens) who have been to China in the last 14 days are prohibited from entering the U.S. United States citizens returning to the country will face quarantine restrictions if they have been in Hubei province, China in the past 14 days. U.S. citizens who have been to other parts of China will face “proactive entry screening” and may be monitored and asked to self-quarantine. These restrictions have also been expanded to include Iran. As of 11:59 EDT on Friday March 13, these restrictions will also apply to Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. This proclamation does not affect U.S. citizens or permanent residents (green card holders), but flights will be diverted to select airports and individuals may be subject to additional screening measures and asked to self quarantine. Ireland and the United Kingdom will be added to the list as of 11:59 EDT on Monday March 16.

School Response

The CDC published a page entitled “Interim Guidance for Administrators of US Childcare Programs and K-12 Schools to Plan, Prepare, and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019” which includes guidance for school communities that do not currently have any cases of COVID-19, as well as those that do. Additionally, the CDC has these cleaning and disinfection recommendations in case of suspected/confirmed coronavirus exposure.  The latest CDC guidance also includes a closure decision making tree for schools who are evaluating closures. Schools should view this guidance in light of other available information, including guidance and/or edicts from state or local officials. 

Schools also have many questions about upcoming travel plans. When responding to questions about inbound or outbound travel planning, NAIS’s Risk Management, Legal, and Practical Challenges in Off-Campus Programming: An Integrated Approach provides an overview of general planning and risk management considerations including liability and insurance concerns. Additionally, this article highlights these issues in the context of COVID-19. 

Schools may be fielding questions from families concerned about upcoming travel plans or making arrangements for international students who planned to travel home for upcoming breaks. In addition to reviewing CDC and State Department country-based warnings cited above, schools should be aware that the guidance is constantly changing. The CDC issued guidance targeted toward institutions of higher education, explaining they should consider postponing or canceling upcoming “student foreign exchange programs” and  asking students who are currently abroad to come home. While this recommendation is focused on higher ed at this time, this statement changes the calculus for schools contemplating travel. The Forum on Education Abroad issued a statement that may help schools contextualize and process this CDC guidance. Schools should consider the latest travel restrictions and the latest State Department global health advisory guidance when considering any upcoming travel, trips, or study abroad for all students and staff. 

Additionally, while information about closures is constantly evolving, EdWeek has created this interactive map showing K-12 closures--public and private. 

Schools may find additional information on coronavirus and decision making from the following organizations: Global Education Benchmark Group (GEBG), the Forum on Education Abroad, International SOS, American Council on Education (ACE), NBOA, and NAFSA.

Business Continuity 

The CDC’s recent comments about business and school continuity of operations is an important reminder that schools should update and review as necessary their business continuity plans. Schools may need to consider how they would respond if individual students needed remote education support as well as how they could move all school operations online. This article from NBOA outlines considerations for independent schools from a business operations perspective. The U.S. Department of Education Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) Technical Assistance Center has this resource to help schools support continuity of teaching and learning during an emergency. Additionally, International Schools Services has resources for online learning including policies and guidelines, IT operations, and tools and platforms. The Council of British International Schools also has resources on these issues, as well as case studies from schools around the world that have had to make closure decisions while making plans for remote learning and communicating with far flung communities. Lastly, there are many available resources to help schools with online learning. One such resource set to help schools create and manage online classrooms comes from Stanford Online High School. 

Additionally, schools with F-1 visa students should be aware of the particular considerations surrounding these students maintaining their visa status in the event of an educational disruption. At this time, SEVP has issued a memo with directions on how to document changes to a student’s program, including a medical reduced course load or a temporary absence. Additionally, as schools contemplate closure or moving to online learning, they must update SEVP according to the latest guidance. Due to the emergency, SEVP is waiving the limitations that generally exist for F-1 students and online courses. Therefore, if a school is moving to online instruction, F-1 students may participate and remain in status, whether they are in the U.S. or have returned to their home country. Schools with J-1 students or staff can reach out to the State department for further guidance, much of which is outlined here.

General Preparedness and Response

The following resources offer additional information: