President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris visited the CDC headquarters in Atlanta today as the agency announced new social-distancing guidance saying it was safe for students to maintain three feet of separation from other students, rather than six feet.
The decision, which came after several studies demonstrated three feet was a safe distance for students, was seen by many as a big help in getting schools open, particularly in districts with space constraints that make it challenging to maintain six feet of social distancing.
Yet anything that may make it easier for schools to reopen is bad news to teachers’ unions, which have been fighting tirelessly to keep schools closed even in the face of science saying it is safe to do so, even seeing the growing toll it is taking on students’ emotional well-being, and even though distance learning has been catastrophic academically.
As a result, it didn’t take long for the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, to say it was “concerned” about the announcement:
At first glance, the change to three feet distance for students in classrooms will be particularly challenging for large urban school districts and those that have not yet had access to the resources necessary to fully implement the very COVID-19 mitigation measures that the CDC says are essential to safe in-person instruction, no matter how far apart students in classrooms are. And while distancing is one important strategy, we must also continue to prioritize all mitigation strategies including vaccinations, wearing masks, hand washing, healthy school buildings and a system of testing, tracing, and quarantining.
For the sake of public trust and clarity, we urge the CDC to provide far more detail about the rationale for the change from six feet to three feet for students in classrooms, clearly and publicly account for differences in types of school environments, new virus variants, differences in mitigation compliance, and how study participants were tested for the virus. We are concerned that the CDC has changed one of the basic rules for how to ensure school safety without demonstrating certainty that the change is justified by the science and can be implemented in a manner that does not detract from the larger long-term needs of students.
Unionized teachers have used every trick in the book to avoid doing their jobs — in some districts they are refusing to teach in person even after cutting in the vaccine line. Now, they have moved on to professing concern that Biden’s CDC is not following the science.