New York Loosens Social Distancing Guidelines for Reopening Schools
In New York City, only 30% of students are currently participating in in-person learning for any amount of time each week.
New York state announced schools have the option to seat students three feet apart instead of six feet while wearing masks, making reopening more realistic for many schools.
However, according to guidance released by the state Department of Health, school districts must first allow parents, school staff and local health officials to weigh in, reports AP News.
“Ultimately, the school/district’s decision to move to shorter physical distances will come down to a local community’s risk tolerance based on its unique circumstances,” reads the 24-page document released late Friday.
The decision follows federal guidance released last month that said elementary, middle and high school classrooms in counties with a low or moderate risk of transmission could safely seat students three feet apart as long as they are wearing masks. In counties where infection rates are high, it is recommended that middle and high schools still aim for the originally recommended six feet distancing unless they can continue with “cohorting,” meaning particular groups of students remain together throughout the day.
Andy Pallotta, president of the New York State United Teachers union, pointed out that the new distancing rule is just one part of a multi-layered mitigation strategy. For instance, under the new rules, students will still be required to be six feet apart when eating and teachers must remain six feet apart from other teachers and students at all times.
Many New York superintendents and parents have voiced frustration at the state’s delay in implementing the new federal guidance. In fact, parents in four western New York districts have sued in recent weeks to resume full-time in-person learning.
According to a recent survey of 3,500 public schools that serve fourth-graders and 3,500 schools that serve eighth-graders in 37 states, 18% of New York public school fourth-graders had access to full-time in-person learning in February while 80% were offered a hybrid schedule.
Nationwide, approximately 46% of public schools offered five days a week of in-person learning to all students but only 34% of students were learning full-time in the classroom. The gap was most prominent among older K-12 students, with 29% of eighth-graders getting five days a week of learning at school.
In New York City, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said only 30% of its students are in the classroom for any amount of time each week, reports WCBS. Additionally, only 40,000 students chose to opt back into in-person learning for the remainder of the school year.
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