School Reentry Considerations


The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed how schools operate and has brought to the forefront the importance of prioritizing the health and well-being of all students.

As schools prepare to create a new model for learning in the fall, finding new ways to support students’ physical, mental, and social and emotional health is paramount. Schools must offer physical education and health education as part of a well-rounded education for all students during COVID-19, regardless of whether they will be providing in-school learning, distance learning, or using a hybrid learning approach.

This document provides schools with recommendations and guidelines for school reentry for K-12 physical education, health education, and physical activity. It will be updated as necessary to incorporate changes in national guidance or recommendations.

During a global health crisis, developing physically literate and health literate students is more important than ever. Health literacy is defined by SHAPE America as, “the ability to access, understand, appraise, apply and advocate for health information and services in order to maintain or enhance one's own health and the health of others.” (SHAPE America, 2015.) Physical literacy can be defined as, “the ability to move with competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities in multiple environments that benefit the healthy development of the whole person” (SHAPE America, 2014). Certified health education and physical education teachers are best equipped to deliver this necessary skills-based and standards-based instruction.


As schools work to adjust their models of student learning during COVID-19, it’s important to differentiate between physical education and physical activity, and for school leaders to understand their role in providing students with opportunities for both.


Physical activity is bodily movement of any type and may include recreational, fitness and sport activities such as jumping rope, playing soccer, lifting weights, as well as daily activities such as walking to the store or taking the stairs. Schools should offer recess and classroom-based physical activity as opportunities for students to engage in physical activity throughout the school day. Additionally, physical education programs offer the best opportunity to provide physical activity to all children and to teach them the skills and knowledge needed to establish and sustain an active lifestyle. An effective physical education program, along with a skill-based health education program, provides learning opportunities, appropriate instruction, and meaningful and challenging content for all students.


These school reentry considerations are intended to guide administrators, staff, and teachers as they prepare an environment for safe and supportive instruction in physical education, health education, and physical activity.


Returning to school during the COVID-19 pandemic will require modifications and may feel overwhelming and challenging to school staff, teachers, and students. Recommendations included in this document are to be used as considerations by school staff to make decisions appropriate for their school or district’s circumstances. Additional resources for health and physical education teachers on adapting specific instructional practices during COVID-19 will be forthcoming from SHAPE America.

The recommendations and strategies included in this document are based on the guidance for schools provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) included here:

The considerations below are also based on national recommendations for physical education, health education, recess, and classroom-based physical activity.


As schools prepare for the upcoming school year, they may be operating under different models of learning based on their geographical location, level of COVID-19 community spread, feedback from families and the school community, and state or local regulations. Included in this document are overarching strategies for schools to consider for reentry as well as considerations for the models of learning listed below.

In-school instruction with physical distancing
  • Physical education
  • Health education
  • Recess
  • Classroom-based physical activity
Distance learning
  • Physical education
  • Health education
Hybrid learning defined as a combination of in-school instruction with physical distancing and distance learning
  • Physical education
  • Health education


Suggested citation: SHAPE America. (2020). School reentry considerations: K-12 physical education, health education, and physical activity. Reston, VA: Author.

The recommendations and strategies provided herein are obtained based on guidance for schools provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and national recommendations for physical education, health education, recess, and classroom-based physical activity. The COVID-19 outbreak is an ongoing, rapidly developing situation. Educators are encouraged to monitor publicly available information and to always follow federal, state and local health organization guidance and government mandates. This information may vary and will be updated as necessary.