Waco ISD to maintain 6-foot distancing in classrooms despite updated CDC recommendation

As the CDC moved the social distancing requirement for K-12 schools from six feet to three feet, Waco ISD has decided to maintain 6-foot distancing to finish out the school year. Sarah Pinkerton | Photographer

By Erianne Lewis | Staff Writer

The Fall 2020 semester brought about a lot of adjustments for students, including the six feet social distancing requirement in schools

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released an update for its social distancing requirements for K-12 schools in the United States. The new recommendation, with universal masking, is that students remain at least 3 feet apart in classrooms. This new recommendation reflected the “latest science on physical distance between students in classroom,” the update read.

Kyle DeBeer, chief of staff for the Waco Independent School District, said Waco ISD does not have plans now to adjust to the CDC’s new social distancing guidelines.

“The short answer is that we are not changing our approach to social distancing as a result of the change in the CDC guidelines. Our goal has been to maintain six feet between students, staff and others wherever possible,” DeBeer said. “However, the number of families opting in-person instruction and the physical size and layout of some spaces have meant that isn’t possible everywhere. In spaces where six feet isn’t possible, we’ve spaced out people as much as possible and, in some cases, added dividers between people.”

Dr. Sharon Stern, medical director for Baylor University health services, wrote in an email that she believes the CDC’s decision was made appropriately.

“​There are a lot of good reasons for this decision. When masks are worn, the 3-foot distance is most likely effective at reducing spread as long as symptomatic people stay home and no one is coughing or sneezing,” Stern wrote. “Schools need to return to in-person classes as the younger students have not done well with online learning. Classrooms can be set up for 3 feet of distance between chairs/desks, but they cannot handle 6 feet distance if classes approach their usual size.”

DeBeer said Waco ISD has been following the CDC’s suggestions since the beginning of the fall 2020 semester.

“From the beginning of the year, when we began reopening facilities, masks have been required in shared spaces in all Waco ISD buildings,” DeBeer said. “We have frequent hand washing, hand sanitizing stations, that have been added throughout our facilities, as well. [We have added] in some places clear plexiglass dividers, or plastic dividers, on some desks and in some spaces, where students may be closer together or working more closely with a teacher. We’ve adjusted air-handling units in our buildings to both increase the rate of air exchange and to increase the MERV rating on the air filters used in our buildings.”

Stern wrote she is unsure what the next lifted COVID-19 requirement will be, but she predicts it will be made during the summertime.

“That is difficult to forecast, but I think it may be to open up more venues, especially outdoor ones. Opening up depends on everyone’s behavior: if we all follow the recommendations, we will likely open much sooner,” Stern wrote.

DeBeer said Waco ISD is now focused on ending the school year but plans on discussing soon the COVID-19 protocols that will be put in place for next school year.

“We’ll be looking as we move closer to the summer and in turn to the start of the next school year to make any final decisions about next year,” DeBeer said. “Those [decisions] will be driven by the public health conditions in our community, the availability of vaccines for students and staff, the extent to which students and staff have been vaccinated and any recommendations from local health experts we have worked with and the CDC as well.”