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Association of California School Administrators
Association of California School Administrators
Schools given more room on student spacing
CDC, CDPH reduce student spacing guidance to 3 feet
March 29, 2021
California educators have been measuring between desks and pulling furniture out of classrooms to meet coronavirus spacing requirements that vary widely by county — requirements that have changed recently due to updated guidance by the CDC and the California Department of Public Health.
On March 19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it had reduced the amount of space it advises for social distancing in classrooms from 6 feet to at least 3 feet between students. Then on March 20, the CDPH updated its spacing guidance to match the CDC.
“CDPH’s quick response serves to mitigate potential confusion as schools throughout the state actively resume in-person instruction and plan for the summer and fall,” according to a press release.
The guidance came just days after a judge in San Diego County issued a ruling that barred the state from enforcing any distance requirement for student spacing.
The updated guidance and the lawsuit should support bringing more students back into classrooms, as districts have struggled providing enough space for the previously advised distance of 6 feet.
On ACSA’s Legislative Lunch Break program March 17, superintendents shared some of the successes and challenges in meeting spacing recommendations.
“We made a decision internally to avoid the hybrid at all costs.”
— Derk Garcia, Superintendent, Roseville City School District
Sundale Union Elementary School District Superintendent Terri Rufert said county health officials originally required 6 feet of distancing when the district opened under a waiver. Once California Department of Public Health guidance was relaxed to allow 4 feet after a good-faith effort has been made, Rufert said the community, board and teachers wanted to return as many students as possible, but spacing was still an issue.
“I have two classrooms that even with the four-foot distancing, I cannot get everybody in the classrooms,” she said. “So the teachers came up with, what if we attach a tent to the classroom?”
Rufert said three-sided pop-up tents attached to the classroom will accommodate more students.
“More kids are wanting to come back, they’re wanting to get off distance learning. Without four-foot distancing, there’s no way,” she said. “I am telling you we had to take everything out of the classrooms — everything — to get some of the classrooms to have the kids in there.”
Roseville City School District schools opened for in-person instruction five days a week in November, initially with 3 feet of distancing per county health requirement and then raised to 4 feet to reflect the CDPH’s requirement.
“It’s gone exceptionally well,” said RCSD Superintendent Derk Garcia. “We were able to ride out the post-Thanksgiving, post-holiday surge, and right now case rates are really low and folks are excited to be back in person, so much so that folks are requesting to come back from the distance learning model.”
“I am telling you we had to take everything out of the classrooms – everything – to get some of the classrooms to have the kids in there.”
— Terri Rufert, Superintendent, Sundale Union Elementary School District
The five days a week schedule was achieved because RCSD used one-time funds to “buy down” class sizes, allowing the district to adhere to CDPH spacing guidance and provide more individualized instruction, Garcia said.
“We made a decision internally to avoid the hybrid at all costs,” he said. “So we sat with our labor partners to try and find a way to really implement SB 98 around maximizing in-person learning time, meeting the minimum 240 minutes, and crafted this five-day-a-week model for five hours a day.”
On March 19, the CDC made a number of changes to its recommendations (see sidebar) and continued to emphasize that schools “layer” their prevention strategies by incorporating the correct use of masks, physical distancing, hygiene, cleaning and maintaining facilities, and contact tracing/quarantine policies.
The recommendation remains 6 feet of space between adult school staff and between adults and students. The CDC says several studies have found that transmission is more likely between adults than from students to staff and between students.
In San Diego County, two parents’ groups filed suit over the state health department’s framework from January that required 4 feet of space between students, which is more difficult to achieve in middle and high schools. A San Diego County judge issued a temporary restraining order barring the state from enforcing the spacing requirement. The judge later clarified that the ruling applies to all districts in the state.
ACSA is reminding members that most other elements of the CDPH guidance remain in effect. ACSA is monitoring the situation and will update members should the state decide to appeal the judge’s decision.
CDC Physical Distancing Guidance
Between students in classrooms:
  • In elementary schools, students should be at least 3 feet apart.
  • In middle schools and high schools, students should be at least 3 feet apart in areas of low, moderate, or substantial community transmission. In areas of high community transmission, middle and high school students should be 6 feet apart if cohorting is not possible.
Maintain 6 feet of distance in the following settings:
  • Between adults (teachers and staff), and between adults and students, at all times in the school building. Several studies have found that transmission between staff is more common than transmission between students and staff, and among students, in schools.
  • When masks cannot be worn, such as when eating.
  • During activities when increased exhalation occurs, such as singing, shouting, band, or sports and exercise. Move these activities outdoors or to large, well-ventilated space, when possible.
  • In common areas such as school lobbies and auditoriums.
SOURCE: CDC’s “Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Prevention” (Updated March 19, 2021)
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