Since the term “social distancing” made its original debut in our vocabulary over a year ago, it was always associated with staying six feet — or two arms’ length — apart.
However, after more than a year of this definition, the Centers for Disease Control is amending its social distancing regulations, decreasing the original six feet apart to three feet.
In elementary, middle and high schools, the CDC is recommending students maintain a distance of 3 feet apart in classrooms. Keeping this new social distancing regulation is not a substitute for mask-wearing and other safety measures.
The CDC is still recommending the middle and high students keep a distance of 6 feet in areas with a high transmission rate of COVID-19. This distinction between middle and high school students from elementary students is due to older students being more likely to be exposed to COVID-19 and to then spread the virus to younger children.
The CDC also still strongly recommends cohorting — keeping groups of students and teachers together to minimize the spread of COVID-19 to an entire school or grade.
Through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, teachers nationwide have become eligible to receive the vaccine March 8. The majority of states have now vaccinated teachers, with just a few states restricting access to vaccines by age group.
With this expansion of vaccines for teachers, these new CDC guidelines seem a little less frightening daunting to educators, who put themselves at risk every day to provide an education to American students.
Still, the American Federation of Teachers, led by President Randi Weingarten, has spoken out against the amended distancing policy. The American Federation of Teachers argues that although the CDC has conducted studies proving that 3 feet are sufficient distancing, these studies were not conducted in heavily populated, low-resource, and short-staffed schools.
In a letter to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, Weingarten has asked that additional studies be conducted “in urban, densely populated schools that do not have up-to-date ventilation systems and have been systematically under-resourced for decades.”
Considering how disproportionately minority communities, such as Hispanic and Black, have been hit with the pandemic, Weingarten and the American Federation of Teachers’ concerns are legitimate and should be properly addressed.
Further discussions with President Biden, the teachers union, and CDC are planned to occur in the Education Department’s National Safe School Reopening Summit to ensure that schools can reopen as “quickly and safely as possible.”