CDC updates guidance on physical distancing in schools; districts wait for county to align

Teacher Nicholas Patey teaches calculus in an empty classroom at Golden Valley High School on Thursday, August 27, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reduced physical distancing guidelines from 6 feet to 3 feet in a classroom setting, but local school districts cannot make changes until the state and county’s guidance aligns. 

Students are able to decrease physical distancing to 3 feet in a classroom setting after new guidance from the CDC was released Friday in areas of moderate COVID-19 community transmission, which includes Los Angeles County. 

The five school districts in the Santa Clarita Valley are examining classroom settings to allow 3-foot distancing, but are unable to do so until the state and county’s departments of public health update the health guidance to align with the CDC’s new recommendations.  

“We must follow the guidelines from the California Department of Public Health and Los Angeles County Department of Public Health,” Steve Doyle, superintendent of Castaic Union School District, said in an email. “They have not changed the social distancing requirements for schools. We are looking at, potentially, how many more students might fit in a classroom if the requirements are changed.” 

The current county guidelines state students must be distanced 6 feet from one another at all times, among other health and safety protocols such as mandatory face coverings and frequent handwashing. 

“We’re going to have to discuss how exactly we will apply these new guidelines locally,” Paul Simon, chief science officer for Public Health, said during a press conference Friday. 

If the state and county update guidance to reflect the CDC’s recommendations, more students will be able to fit into classroom settings, according to Superintendent Jeff Pelzel from the Newhall School District. 

“If the county aligns with (the) CDC guidance and we’re able to distance students 3 feet apart, we’ll be able to have full-time instruction by fall,” Pelzel said. “The challenge right now is the furniture needed to accommodate the distancing, but we’d be able to have all that ready by fall if permitted to do so.” 

All four elementary school districts were able to have students return for in-person instruction after the county’s COVID-19 adjusted case rate reached 25 cases per 100,000 residents in February. The districts have adopted a hybrid model, where students are participating in class for half the day and distance learning for the remainder. 

“We’ve made no decision at the district regarding that yet,” said Colleen Hawkins, superintendent of Saugus Union High School District. “We’ll be examining the classrooms if they release that guidance.” 

Josh Randall, assistance superintendent of business services for the Sulphur Springs Union School District, said similarly that the district is in the process of reviewing the new guidance and will make the necessary changes when able to do so. 

The William S. Hart Union High School District was permitted to start welcoming students back to campus after the adjusted case rate reached seven cases per 100,000 residents in early March. The district has aimed for a March 29 and April 1 return date, maintaining the 6-foot distance. 

“Right now, we’re focusing on county guidance,” said Dave Caldwell, spokesman for the Hart District. “If the county makes any changes before we return on the March 29 date, we’ll make those changes as necessary.” 

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