The American Federation of Teachers is pushing back on new social-distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which state that students may be distanced by three to six feet apart while in a classroom.
The AFT still has concerns about returning teachers to in-person learning with the updated guidelines, AFT president Randi Weingarten wrote in a letter to CDC head Dr. Rochelle Walensky and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on Tuesday. With over 1.7 million members, the AFT is the second-largest teachers’ labor union in the U.S.
Weingarten and AFT members “trust the CDC…to provide them with accurate information,” but they “are not convinced that the evidence supports changing physical distancing requirements at this time,” the letter states. “Our concern is that the cited studies do not identify the baseline mitigation strategies needed to support 3 feet of physical distancing.”
Studies in school districts in Massachusetts and Wisconsin have indicated that students can return to in-person learning with social distancing of between three and six feet, as long as other coronavirus mitigation strategies are in place such as masking and good ventilation. Weingarten claimed that the studies “were not conducted in our nation’s highest-density and least-resourced schools, which have poor ventilation, crowding and other structural challenges.”
The letter comes amid a nationwide push to return students to the classroom following coronavirus-related disruptions. New York City high schools reopened on Monday after being closed since November amid high coronavirus spread in the city, while the city of San Francisco is suing its own school district to reopen following an entire year without in-person learning.
Meanwhile, a CDC report found that in schools in Florida, many of which opened with mitigation guidelines in August, less than 1 percent of students contracted coronavirus at schools from August through December 2020. Among students who contracted coronavirus at school, none died and 101 were hospitalized. Those hospitalized amounted to about 0.000036 percent of the 2,809,553 students followed in the study.