Will new CDC guidelines keep your kids out of the classroom?

Published: Feb. 15, 2021 at 5:45 PM EST
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont’s goal of getting all students back in the classroom this year might not be realistic. School officials tell us there just isn’t enough space, especially in light of new federal guidelines and fears about more contagious variants of COVID-19. Our Olivia Lyons has been looking at how these new guidelines might impact Vermont schools.

It’s all about space and whether schools have enough room in classrooms to keep students safely apart.

“It was great the CDC guidance actually pretty well validated what we are doing,” said Jeanne Collins, the superintendent of the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union.

Collins says Vermont is already doing much of what federal officials recommend to keep students safe. And Vermont is ahead of many states with the number of students back in the classroom.

As of the end of January, 47% of elementary students in Vermont were getting the majority of their learning in the classroom. Forty-two percent were in school two to three days a week in the hybrid model. Just 11% of elementary students were fully remote.

The state would like to get even more students in the classroom. But space may be an impediment. Many of those elementary schools are using the state standard of three feet between younger students. It’s six feet for middle and high school students, limiting what students can do.

“Without eliminating the spacing, we can’t bring at least middle school and high school kids into the building,” Collins said.

And if Vermont adopts the new CDC guidance of six feet for all students, some elementary schools could be forced back to a hybrid model.

Still, state education officials remain bullish on in-person learning to improve student mental health, engagement and academic performance.

Vermont Education Secretary Dan French says Vermont can show the rest of the country how to recover from the pandemic by returning to more in-person education and activities.

“Vermont has a special responsibility to try to do more for our students since our pandemic response to date has been arguably one of the best in the world,” French said.

“It’s almost like the CDC looked at Vermont and said what are they doing to have their students in?” said Mike Campbell, who teaches social studies and psychology in grades 10-12 at BFA St. Albans.

Students are currently learning two days in person and three days remotely.

“It’s certainly not ideal, but it’s much better than what we see the rest of the nation having to deal with,” Campbell said.

In Campbell’s classroom, he has enough space to fit half of his students. But Campbell says if all returned it would not be possible to create a six-foot distance. And changing middle and high school guidance to three feet would still be tough.

“Only half can be here at a time, but I’m fortunate to be able to do that,” he said. “If you said, you get zero students or you get half on Monday, Tuesday, I’ll take half.”

I did reach out to the Agency of Education to see if they are going to follow the new CDC guidance or continue to use Vermont’s. I did not hear back before this story was published-- today is a state-observed holiday. We will follow up with the agency.

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