ALBANY — Six feet in-between is still a guideline for maintaining social distancing in state schools, just not the only guideline.
The Center for Disease control announced its new guidelines last month, shortly after President Joe Biden’s mandate to return children back to the classroom next year. It stated evidence of schools showing an ability to open safely for in-person instruction due to strict prevention strategies. With consistent practices and correct use of masks, the CDC said schools could continue to reopen to in-person instruction.
The state Department of Health released its guidelines in a 24-page report on Friday, April 9. Within it, it recognizes the CDC’s revised guidelines from March, which revised physical distancing recommendations. New guidelines also shape classrooms into looking more like they did prior to the pandemic, removing physical barriers and the need for grouping students into cohorts.
Masks, however, will continue to be required.
The revised guidelines appear to place any changes into the hands of individual districts and the communities they serve. For example, the health department said school districts need to meet with the community before reducing social distancing requirements from 6 to 3 feet. Cohorts could still be maintained, depending on area infection numbers.
While assessing its reopening strategy last summer, Bethlehem Central said it found in-class instruction could return while accommodating 4 to 5 feet of social distancing.
“Our goal this year and next is to have as many students receive in-person instruction as possible,” stated Bethlehem Central Superintendent Jody Monroe last month. The head administrator released a statement last month upon the release of the CDC’s new guidelines. Then, she wasn’t certain how her classrooms would look. Instead, she said the district would have to wait and see how the state would guide area schools. “We will continue to follow the guidance of state and local health officials to ensure a safe learning environment for both students and staff.
Six feet will still be the norm in large gathering areas such as auditoriums, gymnasiums, lobbies and hallways. Wherever people are eating will also require the standard 6 feet apart — reducing the likelihood that students will be able to eat in class. Teachers, too, will continue to be expected to stay 6 feet apart.
School districts are expected to soon reach out to their communities before reintroducing students to the classroom for the next school year.
“As educators, we know that the best place for our students to learn is in person in the classroom. What we’ve wanted from the very beginning of the school reopening process is for that to happen in the safest possible environment,” said Andy Pallotta, president of New York State United Teachers union. “There also is more to be done to strengthen safety protocols. While the state recommends that districts ‘strongly consider’ implementing screening testing, we believe there is zero excuse for all districts not to implement routine testing as soon as possible. The federal government is making hundreds of millions of dollars available to New York schools explicitly for this purpose. It’s long past time to get this done.”