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Vaccinated students and school staff don’t have to wear masks and schools shouldn’t maintain hybrid attendance plans just to implement social distancing, according to updated reopening guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Friday.
While the update recommends schools maintain 3 feet of distance between students, that strategy shouldn’t come at the expense of fully reopening, the CDC said. The agency is recommending that schools continue to enforce masks indoors for unvaccinated students and adults, and to continue implementing other practices including COVID-19 testing, handwashing and proper ventilation.
“Promoting vaccination can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports,” according to the guidance.
With some schools opening in early August, the guidance provides districts time to plan reopening procedures, communicate policies regarding masks and encourage more families to vaccinate their children. Meanwhile, some districts, such as the Chicago Public Schools, are facing demands from their unions to hit vaccination targets of at least 80 percent of students over 12. And an agreement between the Los Angeles district and its union includes mask requirements for all students and staff, regardless of vaccination status. Each school would also have a COVID-19 compliance task force.
In a statement, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said the new CDC guidance is “grounded in both science and common sense.”
“The guidance confirms two truths: that students learn better in the classroom, and that vaccines remain our best bet to stop the spread of this virus and get our kids and educators fully back to those classrooms for in-person learning,” according to the statement.
But she said the union remains concerned about the Delta variant of the disease. Cities such as Los Angeles are beginning to see a spike in cases due to the strain, and Pfizer and BioNTech have announced they are developing a booster shot specifically for that variant. At this time, the CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are not recommending a booster for those who are fully vaccinated.
Weingarten added that AFT affiliates are holding vaccination clinics in their communities to get more adults and children vaccinated before the return of school. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden have also been visiting communities to promote vaccination. The president has called for a door-to-door campaign to encourage those who are hesitant to get shots, but conservatives raised concerns about government intrusion.
The new CDC guidance recommends district leaders monitor local transmission rates when deciding whether to relax any prevention strategies.
Read the full guidance document here.