CLEVELAND — Northeast Ohio health experts and school leaders expressed no concerns after the Center's for Disease Control announced on March 19 it's reducing its recommended in-classroom distancing from six feet to just three feet.
The move comes just a few days before major school districts like Cleveland and Parma return to in-classroom learning on Monday, March 22.
Parma Superintendent Charles Smialek told News 5 the new CDC recommendations will cause little change to the district's COVID-19 safety protocol.
Smialek said in some cases it will be difficult to maintain even three feet of space, and admitted it's been frustrating coming up with a plan when CDC and Ohio Department of Health guidelines are recommending different things.
"The CDC guidance does not change our plans all that much," Smialek said. “We’ve also been very honest with our parents that there will be times in a socially dynamic institution that a school is, that your children are going to come within three or six feet of other children. There are some classrooms where the desks aren’t going to be a full three feet apart, we’ve been honest about that so that they knew that condition they were coming back into.
“One of the frustrating parts has been that, at times, the CDC has released recommendations and then the Ohio Department of Health has sort of interpreted them. That sometimes translates in a clean line down to the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, but at other times there has not been consistency between those different entities.”
The Cleveland Metropolitan School District also responded to our story and said the new CDC recommendations will not change its COVID-19 safety plan.
There are instances when the new CDC recommendations are still calling for six feet of space, including:
- Between adults in school buildings, as well as between adults and students
- In common areas, such as school lobbies and auditoriums
- When masks can’t be worn, such as when eating
- During activities when increased exhalation occurs, such as singing, shouting, band practice, sports, or exercise (These activities should be moved outdoors or to large, well-ventilated spaces whenever possible)
- In community settings outside of the classroom
The CDC says these updated recommendations complement its existing guidance, resources, and tools for K-12 schools.
Summit County Public Health Commissioner Donna Skoda acknowledged the differences in recommendations among health agencies, but said as long as consistent mask wearing, social distancing and student discipline in avoiding congregating in school building common areas are in practice, COVID-19 safety will be maintained.
“The America Academy of Pediatrics said three feet would be adequate, provided there was social distancing, otherwise they wear masks,” Skoda said. “Many have challenges with the building structures and so districts went with either three feet or six feet, with as much spacing as they could accomplish. You take a district like Akron Public Schools, they have 20,000 kids, it’s impossible to keep those children that far apart. We are now realizing that it is safe for children to be in a controlled environment and have closer distances, so parents should not worry.”
Skoda said parents should again urge their children returning to the classroom to be consistent with wearing masks, washing hands, social distancing and avoid congregating inside school buildings.
“In those common areas, managing yourself and your friends," Skoda said. “Tell them, in school, 'I really need you to pay attention to who you’re hanging with.'”