CDC Revises School Distancing Guidelines, Could Expand In-Person Learning

By on March 19, 2021

Verona public schools

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today revised its guidance for K12 schools to cut the distance between students in most classrooms from 6 feet to 3 feet. Verona Superintendent of Schools Dr. Rui Dionisio has been using the CDC guidance as the key parameter in Verona’s hybrid learning program, so the change in CDC guidance could allow more Verona students to return to in-person instruction. 

Dr. Dionisio was in meetings Friday and could not immediately be reached for comment. But earlier this week, when rumors of an impending CDC change surfaced, he said that “At this time, the greatest limitation in our classrooms is the minimum 6 feet physical distancing guidelines from the CDC and communicated by the NJDOH [New Jersey Department of Health] through local health departments. This constraint limits the number of students in any given classroom at any moment in time. I cannot underscore enough the significance in prioritizing updated guidance for schools. Recent studies found no significant difference in COVID case rates between 3 feet and 6 feet physical distancing among students or staff in schools. We are hopeful that the science will support revised guidelines by the CDC, NJDOH, and public health departments that will sanction the safe operation of our schools. Any updates must be clearly and swiftly communicated so our schools may create opportunities for increased in-person learning.”

All of the new CDC guidance is predicated on all students being masked all the time in a school building, except when eating, although the CDC does not recommend that schools use their cafeterias. The guidance has been published as Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Prevention

The CDC’s new guidance applies to all elementary grades regardless of the community transmission rate for the novel coronavirus COVID-19.  In middle schools and high schools, the guidance is at least 3 feet apart where community transmission is low, moderate, or substantial, but at least 6 feet where transmission is high, “if cohorting is not possible,” the federal agency said. Verona has been using cohort groupings.

Verona’s community rate of increase in positive coronavirus cases has fallen substantially since December, when the town saw a 56% growth in new cases, but there continue to be new cases. Verona recorded its 800th positive on March 10, and since then we have added 30 more. Verona’s school COVID dashboard indicates that 44 members of the school community are in quarantine now because of COVID, 13 at H.B. Whitehorne and 20 and Verona High School. 

The CDC is not, however, relaxing its 6 feet guidance in situation between adults in the school building and between adults and students, in common areas, such as school lobbies and auditoriums, when masks can’t be worn, and during activities like singing, band practice, sports or exercise. “These activities should be moved outdoors or to large, well-ventilated spaces whenever possible,” the agency said.

The CDC said it was basing its revised guidance on three recently published studies that indicate that 3 feet of distancing can safely be adopted in classroom settings where mask use is universal and other prevention measures are taken.

Dr. Christopher Tamburro, president of Verona’s teachers union, hailed the  change. “The announcement today by the Centers for Disease Control is welcome news for many Verona Education Association members who have been looking forward to teaching more students in person each day,” he said via email. “Our officers and members have been working on reopening committees, labor-management councils, and in meetings with Dr. Dionisio, administrators, and board members to develop and offer support for plans that best meet the educational needs of our students while meeting parameters outlined by the district. We look forward to working with the Board and administration under this new guidance to continue the reopening process while ensuring the safety of all members of our school community. ”  

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