LOS ANGELES (NewsNation Now) — Students in California classrooms can sit 3 feet apart instead of 6 under new guidelines adopted by the state as school officials figure out how to reopen campuses closed for a year during the coronavirus pandemic.
The state recommendations announced Saturday came a day after federal health officials relaxed social distancing guidelines for schools nationwide. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises at least 3 feet of space between desks in most schools, even in towns and cities where community spread is high, so long as students and teachers wear masks and take other precautions.
Local education leaders will have the final say on distancing in California. The Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest, still says it will keep 6 feet between students, according to the latest guidance online.
Some districts across the state will likely embrace the revised rules. But many school systems, including Los Angeles Unified, have approved agreements with their teachers’ unions that stipulate a 6-foot desk separation.
“While the improving COVID-19 situation is still fragile, we believe this agreement puts LAUSD on the path to a physical reopening of schools that puts safety first,” United Teachers Los Angeles union president Cecily Myart-Cruz said in a statement.
Education officials at the LAUSD district are tentatively planning for physical classes to restart at elementary and preschools by mid-April, while grades 7-12 are scheduled to return by about the end of April.
Under the agreement, elementary teachers will be expected to teach from their classrooms unless they have a verified medical reason to stay remote, while secondary teachers will teach most classes virtually. The teachers’ union said this change would not impact the agreement or its other safety measures — which include personal protective equipment, improved ventilation, daily cleaning and disinfection.
“The recent CDC guidance will not change our current reopening plans,” LA Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner said Sunday. “Our challenge is convincing families that schools are safe, not finding ways to stuff more kids into classrooms.”
After soaring late last year and in January, the rates of COVID-19 infection have dropped across the state. As vaccinations ramp up, Los Angeles and most other California counties have started easing virus restrictions, allowing restaurants, movie theaters and gyms to reopen with limited capacity.
Across California, the positivity rate over the past seven days is 1.8%, the state Department of Public Health said Sunday.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said last week that a lot of pandemic deaths could have been prevented in California if the state had focused earlier on vaccinating people in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s initial tightly constrained approach focused on vaccinating residents by age and profession. He has since set aside 40% of all doses for people in the state’s poorest areas.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.