Elementary school students can sit 3 feet from each other in classrooms as long as they are wearing masks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday. The agency said it was relaxing its guidelines after new research showed that the old standard of 6 feet between students was unnecessary in many educational settings.
The new 3-foot rule applies to all elementary schools, and also to middle and high schools in communities with moderate levels of spread of Covid-19. Older students in communities with high levels of viral spread should stay 6 feet apart, the CDC said, as should all adults working in schools.
“These updated recommendations provide the evidence-based road map to help schools reopen safely, and remain open, for in-person instruction,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.
Pressure to reopen: President Joe Biden has called for the majority of schools to reopen and return to full schedules, and CDC’s updated guidelines will make it easier for local school districts to hit that target. The issue has been a flashpoint throughout the country, with some experts questioning the CDC’s stringent guidelines and many parents calling for a full reopening.
But there is still resistance from some groups, including the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions, which have questioned the guidelines’ applicability to older, more crowded, and poorly ventilated schools in urban settings. “We need to make sure that before we do any changing or easing up of the mitigation strategies that we are making sure we have evidence from those diverse populations,” Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, told The Washington Post. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said she would “reserve judgment” on the new guidelines pending further review.
The bottom line: Most schools are currently open on at least a partial basis, and the CDC’s ruling should speed the process of getting more students back into classrooms this spring. “I’m hopeful that we are turning a corner on this pandemic,” the CDC’s Walensky said. “Getting our children back to school in-person instruction as soon as possible is a critical first step in doing so.”