3 feet already 'the norm' for some Virginia schools as CDC issues updated distancing guidelines

Virginia Education Association President: 'Many educators are still very fearful of returning'
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Posted at 11:29 PM, Mar 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-22 00:09:44-04

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. -- The CDC has changed its standard procedure for social distancing inside classrooms, going from six feet to three feet.

The agency published new research Friday showing the shorter distance had limited COVID-19 transmission in schools as long as everyone is wearing masks. The move could allow some school districts with less space to get more students inside classrooms and away from virtual learning.

Virginia Education Association (VEA) President Dr. James Fedderman said the new recommendations might not have much of an impact on many schools across the Commonwealth.

“I think it’s important to recognize that in some Virginia school systems, three feet is the norm they’re using,” said Dr. Fedderman.

Teachers want to be back in the classrooms, according to Dr. Fedderman, and he said the VEA will continue to ensure health and safety are top of mind.

“Let’s be clear - many educators are still very fearful of returning to in-person learning. Even with being vaccinated, they want to ensure the health and safety of their students, and that of themselves is being made a priority,” he said. “There’s still some hesitancy, but educators are not going to stop working. We’re confident the mitigation strategies that are in place; with three feet or six feet, educators will still be able to do their jobs and to do them effectively.”

Henrico County parent Laurette Turner thinks three feet with masking is adequate.

"We talk to teachers and we have to sign things, we have to be almost next to them," Turner explained "But I feel like as long as we are protected with the mask, that three feet is just as good as six feet."

However, not all parents welcome the change.

"Just being able to be back in school around her friends, I think it's going to be tough for the kids to do that," Nadasha Fludd said.

Fludd, who said her daughter is "actually excelling" with virtual learning, believes there are still many risk factors associated with in-person learning.

"Whether it's six feet or three feet, I just think there's so many other variables that have to be considered that we just need to know a little bit more about that," Fludd said.

Since last month, elementary students at Isle of Wight County Schools have been learning in person five days a week under the shorter distance guidance. The district is finding three feet is just as safe as six.

“It’s been very successful,” said IWCS Director of Community & Media Relations Lynn Briggs. “We have not seen any classroom spread of the virus since we’ve had students return.”

Other public schools, including districts in Gloucester, Hampton, Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, are either already using the three-feet guideline or are moving toward it as they begin to bring back more students.

The CDC recommends students should still remain at least six feet from one another while eating and during other activities when masks cannot be worn.