By Megan Hickey

CHICAGO (CBS) — Just days after a truce ended a bitter battle between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention weighed in on reopening guidelines. Now some principals and superintendents are questioning why these very specific guidelines didn’t go out until nearly a year into the global pandemic.

Maine South High School has been back on a hybrid in-person and e-learning model since Jan. 19, similar to kids in the North Shore School District 112 who pivoted to their hybrid model on Feb. 1.

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“Right now 3,000 students are coming to school in person, either in the morning or the afternoon,” said Dr. Michael Lubelfeld, superintendent of North Shore School District 112

“Our teachers are just literally doing miracles,” said Main South High School Principal Dr. Ben Collins.

Collins said they have taken it all in stride but for months have had to sort through state, county and local guidance when it comes to re-opening their schools.

“It did make it plenty tough because we had to make sure that we were following our state guidance and sometimes that was in conflict with what was going on at the national levels,” said Collins.

Then Friday, nearly 11 months into the global pandemic, the CDC at long last issued a detailed “operational strategy” for K-12 Schools returning to in-person learning.

The CDC specifically recommended five key layered strategies: universal and correct use of masks; physical distancing — recommending the cohorting or “podding” of students; hand washing and respiratory etiquette; cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities; and testing and efficient contact tracing.

The CDC also gave color-coded thresholds for community transmission and appropriate strategies for each.

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“I want to be clear. With the release of this operational strategy, CDC is not mandating that schools reopen,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.

The CDC director said that instead they are providing a “road map.”

“People know what works right now. We’ve been following all these guidelines for a while. I appreciate that it came out now, fine, but it’s kind of a little too late,” said Collins. 

Lubelfeld said he was part of group of superintendents nationwide who started asking for this kind of federal guidance back in July.

“The good news is we have guidance,” he said. “The bad news is we’re in a public health crisis with information shifting and changing all the time.”

The CDC director said currently 90% of counties in the United States are in that red “high transmission” group.

The CDC director reiterated today that the vaccination of teachers, while important, is not a requirement for reopening. She said they strongly encourage states to prioritize teachers, but it is not a requirement, noting several times that this strategy is backed by science.

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Find the full 38-page list of recommendations here.

Megan Hickey