CDC Says Schools Can Now Space Students 3 Feet Apart, Rather Than 6

The World Health Organization already recommended that schools distance children 1 meter apart (3.3 feet). The American Academy of Pediatrics, meanwhile, has been warning that “in many school settings, 6 feet between students is not feasible without drastically limiting the number of students.” As a result, the AAP has advised flexibility, telling school leaders to “weigh the benefits of strict adherence to a 6-feet spacing rule between students with the potential downside if remote learning is the only alternative.”

About 30% of U.S. students attend schools that have adopted hybrid schedules, according to the organization Burbio. These schedules can have children attending in-person for as few as five days every three weeks. While at home, depending on school staffing, they may be joining in-person classes by video, or they may be completing packets of homework or online assignments without live support.

In Dallas, Superintendent Michael Hinojosa says his high schools’ hybrid schedule has reduced student engagement. “They’re in school Monday, Tuesday. Then nobody’s there on Wednesday, then another group’s there on Thursday and Friday. And so our participation level has been very low,” says Hinojosa. “Hopefully, with the new CDC guidelines of 3 feet, we can get more kids in there.”

Parent surveys suggest hybrid models can be the worst of both worlds. In a recent NPR/Ipsos poll of parents, those with children enrolled in hybrid learning were the most likely to feel worried that their child will be behind when the pandemic is over (62% agreed, versus 50% of those attending remote, and 37% attending fully in-person). They were also most likely, by a wide margin, to believe that the pandemic has disrupted their child’s education.

Similarly, a new national survey of parents from the group ParentsTogether found that, compared to parents of students attending either fully remote or full-time in-person, “Parents of kids doing blended learning are more concerned about their kids’ mental health, more concerned about them falling behind, more concerned about them not getting enough instructional support, more concerned about them getting bad grades, failing, or not finishing,” says ParentsTogether co-founder Justin Ruben. For example, in the survey, 62% of respondents with students in the hybrid model said their child’s mental health had gotten worse since the pandemic started, compared to about half of parents with students in the other two models.

On Friday, the CDC also released the results of a parent survey showing that, when children were in blended models, parents reported their children had less physical activity, less time outside, less time with their friends, and worse mental and emotional health, compared to students attending school five days a week.

And teachers, too, report lots of stress with hybrid models. In December, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called for the model to be phased out. “Hybrid doesn’t work,” she said. “You can’t livestream and teach in person at the same time.”

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