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April 17, 2021

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In Our View: New rule brings schools closer to reopening

The Columbian
Published:

Updated guidelines for the distance between students in classrooms reflects the evolution of coronavirus science. Hopefully, Washington’s embrace of those guidelines will help more school districts in the state open for in-house learning.

On March 19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that, with universal masking, a distance of 3 feet between K-12 students was acceptable. The previous recommendation had been 6 feet.

Last week, Gov. Jay Inslee adopted the new guidelines for Washington schools, with the change being implemented immediately. That joins a previous mandate that all districts provide some in-person learning by mid-April; most Clark County schools already have done so.

“We’re very pleased that students, and educators, and staff are continuing to return to the classroom now across the state of Washington, using safety protocols that we know work,” Inslee said. “And today, I’m glad to be able to say Washington is embracing new guidelines that are safe, that will allow even more students back into schools in a more normal setting.”

Local school officials say plans to allow only 3 feet of distancing still are being worked out. There are logistics to be determined for seating configurations in classrooms, hybrid scheduling, out-of-classroom safety with more students in the building, and protocols for teachers and staff.

But the relaxing of the parameters is important for allowing more students to attend school and for further reducing the reliance on remote learning. That will benefit students both academically and socially.

Joel Aune of the Washington Association of School Administrators said the decision was welcome news and added, “Some districts will need more time to adjust and plan under this new guidance, though this development puts everyone on a pathway to more fully reopen schools for in-person learning by the fall.”

The CDC guidelines still recommend 6 feet of distance between staff members and between teachers and students. Officials also recommend that students remain 6 feet apart in communities where coronavirus infection rates are relatively high.

As some states have allowed schools to more fully open, those schools have not proven to be coronavirus superspreaders. The CDC reports: “Compared with adults, children and adolescents who have COVID-19 are more commonly asymptomatic (never develop symptoms) or have mild, nonspecific symptoms.”

Clark County Public Health reports one current coronavirus outbreak in a school – two known cases at Union High School. Outbreaks are considered closed 28 days after the last confirmed infected person was on campus.

That infrequency, combined with the struggles many students have in remote learning, argues in favor of a swift reopening of schools.

That will reflect the evolving information regarding coronavirus. When the previously unknown disease arrived in Washington, caution was warranted, particularly for the protection of students. Now, although more than 550,000 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 in the U.S., the science indicates that schools can safely reopen with established precautions. It all is part of our growing understanding of the virus and its transmission.

Ideally, all students will experience some in-person learning this school year, and all schools will be fully open by the fall. Following the increasing body of science surrounding the disease might allow that to happen.

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