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Teachers union questions CDC’s new 3-foot distancing recommendation in classrooms



(NEW YORK) — The president of a major teacher’s union, the American Federation of Teachers’ Randi Weingarten, is raising concerns about recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that loosens social distancing requirements in classrooms.

The CDC released updated guidance last week, which now recommends students be 3 feet apart, instead of 6 feet.

“We are not convinced that the evidence supports changing physical distancing requirements at this time,” Weingarten said in a letter Tuesday to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.

“Our concern is that the cited studies do not identify the baseline mitigation strategies needed to support 3 feet of physical distancing. Moreover, they were not conducted in our nation’s highest-density and least-resourced schools, which have poor ventilation, crowding and other structural challenges,” the letter reads.

The CDC’s updated guidance for schools said students could be distanced 3 feet apart, as long as additional mitigation strategies — such as wearing masks — were in place. The guidelines still recommends 6 feet of distancing in certain situations, “between adults in the school building and between adults and students,” and in instances when masks can’t be worn, when eating, for example.

“CDC is committed to leading with science and updating our guidance as new evidence emerges,” the CDC director said in a statement last week. “Safe in-person instruction gives our kids access to critical social and mental health services that prepare them for the future, in addition to the education they need to succeed. These updated recommendations provide the evidence-based roadmap to help schools reopen safely, and remain open, for in-person instruction.”

The move is expected to allow for more students to attend in-person classes and comes as reopening the nation’s schools have become a central focus for the Biden administration’s first 100 days. Last week, the administration also announced it was dedicating $10 billion toward implementing COVID-19 screening tests for teachers, staff and students to help districts reopen safely.

The letter from Weingarten also raised “immediate logistical questions.”

“With the guidance that students can be 3 feet apart from each other but adults should remain 6 feet from children or other adults, what is the expectation for the teacher in a classroom — that she remain in one spot at the front of the room the entire day, not moving about the classroom?” she asked.

“How will paraprofessionals work in reading circles or other small-group settings? Does this also apply to bus drivers and school bus protocol — i.e., will students be 3 feet from each other on buses, but 6 feet from a bus driver or a bus attendant?” she continued.

Weingarten requested that the Education Department and CDC release a “checklist” that states what additional mitigation strategies must be in place for 3 feet of social distancing to be effective and asked that “the CDC conduct comparative studies on mitigation efforts in urban, densely populated schools that do not have up-to-date ventilation systems and have been systematically under-resourced for decades.”

The letter comes just a day before the Biden Administration is set to have its National Safe School Reopening Summit.

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