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Washington schools unlikely to switch plans despite new CDC recommendations

National health officials now say students can sit as close as 3 feet to each other in classrooms, but districts say they'll likely stick to their current plans.

BELFAIR, Wash. — In the North Mason Public School district, all grade levels have now returned for some form of in-person hybrid learning. At North Mason High, roughly 250 students a day are back for twice a week instruction.

A tour on Friday showed clear blue masking tape and numbered chairs as just a couple of ways to mark how students are being kept six feet apart.

Superintendent Dana Rosenbach says the district is proud of its plan which follows the “current regulations.”

She says the three-foot rule would take time to implement.

While she says there would be some benefit in how many kids could return to the elementary schools, in particular, it will need to be bargained with the teachers’ union. There are also transportation and scheduling impacts.

“No switch flipping,” Rosenbach said. 

The Superintendent of Public Instruction’s office says any change would be dependent on the state and local health department advice, and individual districts.

There are still a handful, like Seattle, that don’t offer a hybrid model, although that is due to change next month based on Gov. Jay Inslee's recent mandate to return to classrooms in some form by mid-April.

It was unclear whether the new CDC guidelines would change anything for Seattle, the state's largest school district.

“We are taking this new information into consideration and discussing possible impacts as we continue to prioritize the health and safety of our students and staff. We will continue to prioritize Washington State Department of Heath guidelines. As we make operational adjustments, we will communicate them to students, families and staff," the district said in a statement.

The Washington Education Association, which represents the teachers unions, seemed skeptical of the CDC guidance. 

“Leaders continue to point to a mental health crisis among students yet have failed to sustainably fund mental health supports in schools. With the 6-foot spacing requirement, classes are finally sized right for students to get more of the learning and supports they need," the union said in a lengthy statement. "Before adding additional students under 3-foot spacing, local unions and districts must collaborate to ensure we continue to provide the same ratio of educational support including mental health services per student as we did with the 6 foot spacing."

"The CDC’s new guidance recommending 3 feet of distancing instead of 6 for elementary schools raises justifiable questions about the science behind the change.  We are all too aware that many interests have been pushing for faster school reopening; it’s critical that the CDC transparently show this is rigorously science-based," the union wrote.

RELATED: CDC revises school distancing guidelines for COVID prevention

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