New York City school officials are reviewing new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control that relaxes mask mandates and distancing requirements for school districts this fall.
The CDC said Friday that “safely returning to in-person instruction in the fall 2021 is a priority” and that fully vaccinated K-12 students, teachers and staff do not have to wear masks while inside school buildings. Masks are still recommended for unvaccinated children and adults.
The CDC guidance also recommended that schools “promote vaccinations among teachers, staff, families, and eligible students by providing information about COVID-19 vaccination, encouraging vaccine trust and confidence, and establishing supportive policies and practices that make getting vaccinated as easy and convenient as possible.”
Schools need to maintain “at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms,” according to the CDC in an update of its guidance issued in March where young students not wearing masks and all older students had to stay six feet apart.
New York City has continued to require masks for all students and school personnel regardless of vaccination status, and the Department of Education said they are reviewing the new guidance from the CDC.
“New York City schools led the nation by safely opening our doors when no other major district did, and we will welcome our students back to full-time, in-person learning in September. The science shows that our rigorous, multi-layered approach has made our schools the safest places to be, and we are reviewing the CDC guidance with our health experts,” said Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter in a statement.
The city is planning a full reopening of public schools, with no remote learning option, in the fall.
The United Federation of Teachers’ union, which had pushed Mayor Bill de Blasio to delay the start of the 2020-2021 school year until the city agreed to stringent testing and ventilation policies, said they were also taking the CDC guidance into consideration.
“We will be reviewing the CDC’s recommendations and having conversations with our independent medical experts, as well as meeting with the City and State agencies that are responsible for deciding how to proceed,” said UFT president Michael Mulgrew in a statement.
The head of the principals union said he found the updated guidance “very optimistic.”
“For the first time the CDC is saying that if you can’t maintain three feet of distance you can still invite all the children back to school and perhaps do some other things to keep everyone safe. For me that’s the biggest positive change,” said Mark Cannizzaro, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators.
“New York City has a significant number of schools that will need to use that part of the guidance to get all students back in schools,” he said, estimating more than half the 1,800 public schools in the city would not be able to maintain six feet of social distancing between all their students.
“I think this opens up a lot of possibilities for schools that would otherwise not have been able to comply,” Cannizzaro added.
New York City schools will have to also follow the state’s guidance. On Friday, the state Department of Health said “We are reviewing the new guidance from CDC.”
With Jessica Gould