Educators: allowing students to sit closer together presents challenges

Updated: Apr. 12, 2021 at 5:53 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - The state Department of Health says 3-feet apart in schools, so let’s bring back all the kids. But, it’s not that simple. Schools need to do some studying of their own before making the decision to come back full-time.

It sounds like a simple step towards returning to normal.

New York has adopted CDC guidelines, meaning kids can be closer together, 3-feet apart, as long as they have a mask on.

But educators say it’s not a simple change.

“With everything else, the devil’s in the details. It’s a complex series of requirements and recommendations, so districts are going to be studying that closely,” said Jefferson-Lewis BOCES Superintendent Stephen Todd.

One complication: bussing rules. They haven’t changed since last August and a school bus can only be half-filled.

“If we can’t get X number of students into school every day, then the 3-foot piece doesn’t mean much,” said St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES Superintendent Tom Burns.

Another rule that didn’t change? Lunch time.

“Suppose kids, like they have all along, have lunch in their classrooms at 6-feet. If you move the desks to 3-feet, and the kids take off their masks to eat lunch, now they’re too close,” said Todd.

Schools’ location also plays a big role. Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties considered high-risk.

That means elementary schools can follow the 3-feet rule, but middle and high schools have to have students 6-feet apart unless they are in isolated groups, also known as cohorting.

Decisions will be made district by district and it’ll take a while.

“I would urge people to be patient and to be a part of those conversations, certainly. Districts will be consulting with their families, consulting with their faculty and staff, with the health department partners, and others, to make sure that measured, thoughtful decisions are made to keep everyone safe,” said Todd.

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