NY approves reduced student distancing from 6 to 3 feet

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 10 April 2021 at 4:24 pm

The State Health Department updated its guidance for schools on Friday evening, allowing schools to reduce student distancing from 6 to 3 feet.

The update has been eagerly anticipated, especially Albion and Holley which are bringing back more students for in-person learning next week.

The change will allow the districts to have more kids in the classroom for in-person learning. Many districts in the state have been on a hybrid schedule, alternating cohorts of students to keep reduce the capacity in the classrooms.

That reduction in student distancing applies to schools in counties with low, moderate and substantial transmission of Covid-19.

The School Administrators Association of New York State summarized other highlights in the guidance:

  • Physical barriers are no longer recommended when social distancing can not be maintained. A preferred strategy is “enhanced” ventilation and air filtration.
  • Face masks are required at all times-except when eating. Six feet distance must be maintained during meals or snacks.
  • Six feet distance is required between adults.
  • Masks must be worn at all times on buses and “individuals should maintain appropriate physical distancing, unless they are members of the same household.”
  • Six feet distance must be maintained for participation in activities that require projecting the voice or playing wind instruments. This distance must be maintained the audience and performers.
  • Six feet must be maintained in common areas.
  • Other mitigation strategies such as cleaning protocols, daily screening and testing must be maintained

The federal government on March 19 issued an update on guidance for schools with the distance between desks reduced from 6 to 3 feet.

Paul Pettit, public health director in Orleans and Genesee counties, has previously said he supports the change in distancing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

School districts, however, didn’t have the option of moving students closer together until the state Department of Health issued its updated guidance on Friday evening.

“We don’t have the authority to approve,” Pettit said last month. “It’s between the schools and the state. The schools need to follow the state guidelines. We support the change if it happens from the CDC.”

Teachers union wants students in person for school ‘in the safest possible environment’

Press Release, New York State United Teachers

ALBANY – New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta issued the following statement today on revised New York State Department of Health Covid-19 guidance for K-12 schools:

“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.

“In adopting new physical distancing guidelines in line with CDC recommendations, the state is making it crystal clear that distancing is only one part of a layered mitigation strategy. These revised guidelines not only draw distinctions between when it’s appropriate to have three feet of distancing and when six feet of distancing is still necessary, they also mandate masks at all times and lay out specific ventilation recommendations while maintaining important provisions for cleaning, hygiene and contact tracing.

“What’s more, the guidelines are clear that community transmission — with a majority of New York counties currently at high levels of transmission, per CDC metrics — is a critical factor in how physical distancing changes are implemented. And before districts make changes, school communities, including parents and educators, must be given an opportunity to provide input on updates to reopening plans. That has always been and must continue to be essential to the reopening process.

“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.

“Ultimately, if changes to local reopening plans are made, it’s up to local departments of health to enforce state required guidelines. They must do so expeditiously and ensure no district is lax in sticking to a layered mitigation strategy.”