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Lewiston-Porter High School (File photo)
Lewiston-Porter High School (File photo)

CDC adjusts in-person school guidelines; reactions

Fri, Mar 19th 2021 05:05 pm

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted “Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Prevention.” The website lists a summary of changes:

√ Revised physical distancing recommendations to reflect at least 3 feet between students in classrooms and provide clearer guidance when a greater distance (such as 6 feet) is recommended.

√ Clarified ventilation is a component of strategies to clean and maintain healthy facilities.

√ Removed recommendation for physical barriers.

√ Clarified the role of community transmission levels in decision-making.

√ Added guidance on interventions when clusters occur.

The CDC also posted key points:

√ Evidence suggests that many K-12 schools that have strictly implemented prevention strategies have been able to safely open for in-person instruction and remain open.

√ CDC’s K-12 operational strategy presents a pathway for schools to provide in-person instruction safely through consistent use of prevention strategies, including universal and correct use of masks and physical distancing.

√ All schools should implement and layer prevention strategies and should prioritize universal and correct use of masks and physical distancing.

√ Testing to identify individuals with SARS-CoV-2 infection and vaccination for teachers and staff provide additional layers of COVID-19 protection in schools.

Image courtesy of the CDC, as provided by ECDOH (CDC, Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Prevention)

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Responses

The Erie County Department of Health stated, “The New York State Education Department (NYSED) established reopening guidance for p-12 schools in summer 2020. School districts and schools are responsible for policies and practices that align with that guidance. NYSED and the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) are the agencies with the authority to make changes to that guidance.

“Using the CDC metrics for low, moderate, substantial or high transmission, Erie County currently falls within the high transmission category (~190 new confirmed COVID-19 cases per 100,000 persons in the past 7 days). If New York state decides that schools can implement the updated CDC recommendations, middle schools and high schools in areas of high transmission that cannot cohort students should still follow the 6-foot-distance guidance in classrooms. For more information, please review the CDC guidance at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/operation-strategy.html.

“Parents or school staff with questions about in-person learning within P-12 schools should contact NYSED or NYSDOH.:

ECDOH offered these additional links:

√ CDC, Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Prevention

√ NYSED: p-12 School Reopening Guidance

√ Erie County Department of Health COVID-19, schools: http://www.erie.gov/covid19/schools

In Niagara County, Lewiston-Porter Superintendent of Schools Paul Casseri sent out this letter to families and the educational community:

•Social Distancing Changes

Good news for our community! Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that students in K-12 schools only need to remain three feet apart in classrooms, not the six feet that was previously recommended. The updated guidance only applies to schools with universal masking policies, which we are. For elementary schools, the three feet recommendation applies regardless of community transmission rates, but in middle and high schools, it only applies when community transmission rates are low, moderate, or substantial. If community transmission rates are high, middle and high school students should be six feet apart, if "cohorting" is unavailable. Niagara County Health Commissioner, Dan Stapleton, reminded all Niagara County Superintendents that this new CDC guidance needs to be adopted and promulgated by the Governor and the New York State Department of Health. I am hopeful that the Governor and the NYSDOH will adopt this guidance as soon as possible and get that information out to county health officials so that schools can begin the return to full instruction. 

•Next Steps for Lew-Port

Based on this information and the anticipated guidance from NYSDOH, I would expect that Lewiston-Porter would return to full instruction in a phased approach after the Spring Break. In order to begin this process, we will need to update class rosters and bus runs as well as begin the process of repopulating desks in rooms to accommodate our students.

While we are working behind-the-scenes, we need your help. Specifically, we need you to let us know if you will be sending your child/ren to school for five days. Here’s how you can do that.

We are asking any hybrid or remote family that is planning on changing their current learning model and/or transportation status to complete this form by next Friday, March 26th. 

If a family does not complete the form we will assume they are returning to full five-day instruction. 

For a full return, we will need families to continue to transport their child/ren to and from school whenever possible in order to keep the density of students on our busses to a manageable distance. Therefore, we will also assume that all families continue to drive their child/ren to school every day unless they complete the form. 

•Learning Model Feedback

As I mentioned last week, our third Learning Model survey closed on Monday, March 15th. Thank you for the almost 850 responses to the survey. Here are the results for your review.

•Transition Planning

There is still much to understand with this new guidance. For example, does the 3-feet include, cafeterias, physical education, music classes, etc.? The nuance of the guidance will ultimately come from NYSDOH and NYSED, so we still have much work ahead as we gear up for a full return of students to school. Either way, this is truly great news and another sign of a return to a more familiar teaching and learning experience for our students and families! We are excited to begin the process. 

As more details come out from New York State with this new guidance, I will report to you where we are at in the planning process. I am hopeful that next week I will be able to detail to families the specific day/s we will begin the process of bringing our students back to full instruction. My goal would be to have that information to you before we leave for Spring Break. Any changes in current bus information would be provided soon thereafter.

Further Response

New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta issued the following statement:

“Any educator will tell you the best way for students to learn is to be in person in the classroom. In a number of schools around New York, that has been done safely and successfully since September. For places that have older buildings, spacing limitations or other circumstances that make COVID-19 mitigation strategies challenging, decisions on how to bring students back to the classroom must be driven by science, not politics.

“Abrupt changes can undermine public trust and clarity, and we would like to review in greater detail the science behind the CDC’s latest social distancing guidance. Yet it is clear social distancing is only one element of a nuanced and multifaced approach to COVID-19 mitigation in schools. Universal mask wearing, cleaning, proper ventilation, contact tracing, COVID-19 testing and getting the vaccine to everyone who wants one are all still important safety measures for schools. If anything, these other factors – especially the need for robust COVID-19 testing in schools – become more important as social distancing guidance changes.

“When it comes to changing local reopening plans, districts must continue to work with educators and parents to maintain confidence in the safety of their buildings. Those decisions must be based on the circumstances within each school and must carefully consider all aspects of a responsible COVID-19 mitigation strategy. As public health officials have rightly cautioned, in the face of new variants and a race to make vaccinations widely available, this is not the time to let down our guard.”

New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

New York State School Boards Association Executive Director Robert Schneider stated:

“Today’s announcement by the Centers for Disease Control, as well a similar announcement earlier this week by the World Health Organization, that 3 feet of separation between students in classrooms is sufficient to ensure their safety, rather than the previous guidance of 6 feet, offers greater flexibility for school districts to accommodate parents who want to see their children back in school.

“The new CDC guidance, if adopted by New York state, would essentially double the number of students that could learn together in a single classroom and reduce their reliance on remote learning.

“The problem is, the state Department of Health guidance still calls for 6 feet, in the absence of physical barriers in the classroom. As a result, school districts are getting mixed messages from our county, state and national health officials, causing confusion among school districts and educators over what they need to do to open safely. Without clear action from the state, this confusion will continue and there will still be a patchwork of different distancing requirements from county to county.

“NYSSBA urges Gov. Cuomo and the state Health Department to consider adopting the 3-foot guideline in New York, or explain why they believe scientific evidence does not support such a change.

“We have full confidence in our schools, which have proven they can keep children and staff safe in accordance with science.

The New York State School Boards Association represents more than 670 school boards and more than 5,200 school board members in New York. NYSSBA provides advocacy, training and information to school boards in support of their mission to govern the state's public schools.

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