New York state updates rules on social distancing for schools

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State health officials released new social-distancing guidelines for schools, saying students can sit closer than 6 feet apart in most circumstances.

The state Department of Health Friday put out the new rules, which mesh with recommendations made last month by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state guidelines say 3 feet is enough distance between students except for older students in areas with a high risk of COVID-19 transmission.

The impact on the New York City school system was unclear.

“We are glad the state put out updated guidance that aligns with the CDC recommendations. We’re continuing with our plan to welcome back this month the 3-K, Pre-K, elementary and District 75 elementary students who recently opted in, and will have more to share soon,” Department of Education spokeswoman Danielle Filson said Saturday.

Allowing less space between students would presumably allow more students to return to classrooms. About 70 percent of students are enrolled in remote learning although parents had until Friday to switch children to a mix of remote and in-person instruction.

School children are spaced apart in one of the rooms used for lunch at Woodland Elementary School in Milford, Mass. on Sept. 11, 2020.
School children are spaced apart in a lunchroom at Woodland Elementary School in Milford, Mass. on Sept. 11, 2020.
Boston Globe via Getty Images

United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew was reluctant last month to embrace the CDC’s 3-foot guidelines, saying he was waiting for the union’s own experts to weigh in.

Mulgrew released a statement Saturday noting that because of remote instruction “the immediate impact of such a change will be confined to the limited number of buildings – predominantly elementary schools – where space limitations mean that some students now attend fewer than five days a week.”

“We will be discussing with the DOE how to reprogram such schools for the remaining weeks of the school year while maintaining the other safety precautions, including mask requirements and random testing, that have kept schools the safest public places in New York City,” Mulgrew said.

Masked school children wait to have their portraits taken during picture day at Rogers International School on Sept. 23, 2020 in Stamford, Conn.
Masked school children at Rogers International School on Sept. 23, 2020 in Stamford, Conn.
Getty Images

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