On Sept. 8, five inches of snow fell on Boulder, Colo., just three days after the city had experienced a record-breaking heatwave. Nobody was expecting this weather whiplash, certainly not JJ Morrow, head of school of Mackintosh Academy Boulder, an independent school that had committed to nearly all outdoor learning this year to minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus. 

“It was a total, total nightmare,” Morrow said. Many students didn’t yet have winter gear at the school, so teachers had to move the kids indoors, and not all parents and teachers were happy about it.

Hundreds of schools that have been trying to keep students safe from COVID-19 by moving them outdoors are now grappling with how to keep them safe from the elements and when to move them indoors. 

Most outdoor schools loosely follow the Iowa Department of Public Health’s Child Care Weather Watch guidelines, which says kids can be outside indefinitely if the temperature is 32 degrees or higher and winds do not exceed 15 miles per hour. 

 When temperatures are lower or winds are stronger, kids can be outdoors but should be monitored closely. 

 If temperatures dip below 13 degrees, children shouldn’t be outside.