Valley school districts prepare for changes after CDC says 3-feet distance safe

The change in physical distancing guidance would allow, in most cases, teachers and schools to bring back entire classes.
CLOVIS, Calif. (KFSN) -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a major change to its COVID-19 safety guidelines in classrooms on Friday.

Officials have reduced the required distance between students from 6 feet down to 3 feet.

RELATED: CDC says 3 feet of distance safe in elementary classrooms, meaning more schools able to reopen

"This is a game changer for our schools," said Jim Yovino, the superintendent for Fresno County Superintendent of Schools.

Yovino said the change in physical distancing guidance would allow, in most cases, teachers and schools to bring back entire classes.

"We know there's no replacement for that adult in front of a child, so having them in the classroom is the best place for them," Yovino said.

New guidance issued Friday by the CDC shows elementary school students should remain three feet apart with masks regardless of community transmission rates.

Middle and high school students should be three feet apart with masks where transmission is low, moderate, or substantial.

If transmission rates are higher, officials said middle school and high school students should remain six feet apart, if cohorting is not possible.

The CDC continues to recommend at least six feet of distance

  • Between adults in the school building and 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.

"There's a lot of things that go into making those sudden changes that we are sensitive to," said Kelly Avants, the Chief Communications Officer for Clovis Unified School District.

Clovis Unified currently has some students on campus and some distance learning.

According to the district's COVID-19 dashboard, positive cases for the last three months have remained low even as students have returned to the classroom.

"Certainly we still have people testing positive just like we see around the county but not because of their interaction at school," Avants said.

Avants said CUSD is not making any changes yet because all school districts must wait for guidance from the California Department of Public Health, but she said it's also weighing the cost and benefit to moving students around again.

Visalia Unified School District is also in a hybrid model for kindergarten through 6th grade.

The district is preparing to bring back grades 7 through 12 next week since Tulare County recently moved into the Red tier.

"I think students are very adaptable and I think if we told them they could be closer, I think that would be fine," said Suzie Skadan, Director of Health Services for Visalia Unified School District (VUSD).

VUSD is also waiting for CDPH guidance, but is preparing now for potential changes.

"We would implement that as soon as safely possible," said Skadan.

In the North Valley, Merced City School District Deputy Superintendent Doug Collins said this guidance gives officials a chance to start planning.

"I'm thrilled because everybody knows that that social distancing requirement is really the key that unlocks the classrooms, so to speak, to having more students back at school," said Collins.

The CDPH sent the following statement to ABC30 regarding the guidance from the CDC:

"State public health experts have been, along with the CDC, closely monitoring the emerging science on COVID-19 safety and schools, including the role of physical distancing. Updated state guidance and planning resources will be issued in the coming days."
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