NEW YORK (WKBW) — In new guidance from the New York State Department of Health, schools will now be able to reduce the minimum physical distance between people in classrooms from six feet to three feet.
Guidance released on Friday states the following, "responsible Parties may reduce physical distancing requirements to a minimum of three feet between students in classroom settings, subject to adherence to certain mitigation measures herein."
On March 19, the CDC issued a new recommendation that with face coverings students at K-12 schools should maintain a distance of at least three feet in classroom settings.
Additional guidance from the state includes the following when it comes to three feet in the classroom
- In counties with low and moderate risk of transmission, elementary, middle, and high schools can maintain physical distancing of at least three feet between students in classrooms.
- In counties with substantial risk of transmission, elementary, middle, and high schools can maintain physical distancing of at least three feet between students in classrooms and cohorting is recommended when possible.
- In counties with high risk of transmission, elementary schools can maintain physical distancing of at least three feet between students in classrooms and cohorting is recommended when possible. However, in middle and high schools three feet between students in classrooms is recommended only when schools can use cohorting. When schools cannot maintain cohorting, middle and high schools must maintain physical distancing of at least six feet between students in classrooms.
The guidance also includes the following instances of when physical distancing should remain six feet
- Six feet is always the required distancing between adults (teachers, staff, visitors) and between students and adults.
- Six feet of distance is required when eating meals or snacks, or drinking, or other times masks must be removed. This may mean that meals cannot be eaten in classrooms that have been converted to three feet of physical distance duringinstruction time.
- Individuals participating in activities that require projecting the voice (e.g., singing) or playing a wind instrument must be six feet apart and there must be six feet of distance between the performers and the audience during performances and concerts.
- Six feet of physical distance must be maintained in common areas and outside of classrooms (e.g. lobbies, auditoriums, gymnasiums, cafeterias, and hallways), where possible.
Parents and school administrators said the switch from six to three feet of distancing in classrooms is a long time coming.
Michael Cornell, the superintendent of Hamburg Schools and President of the Buffalo Niagara Superintendents Association, said the caveats in the state guidelines means parents will have to remain patient.
“Most elementary kids will be coming back full time, some version of that hopefully in the near future, and it’s going to take us time to work out what it means for the secondary students,” Cornell said.
Niagara Falls Superintendent Mark Laurrie said he needs more clarity on infection rates in Niagara County. He plans to start transitioning in about two weeks, beginning with elementary school students and 12th graders, and phasing in the rest of the district.
“All of our hybrid students will be expected to now come four days, and the totally remote students will remain totally remote, that gives us a little more flexibility and room so that we could pretty much guarantee all students a place to fit back into our schools.” Laurrie said.
Tarja Parsinnen, a parent advocate with WNY Students First, said she's relieved the guidance has been released, but disappointed by the stricter criteria for middle and high schools.
“So that’s frustrating, you know, high schoolers and middle schoolers are the most at risk mentally, social, emotionally, so that’s very frustrating," Parsinnen said.
The state said community input is required from parents, teachers, and the local health department before changes can be made.
You can read the entire guidance by clicking here or by scrolling through the document below