‘It creates hope’: School leaders excited to relax some social distancing rules

SPOKANE CO., Wash. — Many older students are attending class in-person, part-time right now. That’s largely because schools couldn’t fit every student in the classroom due to the 6-feet rule.

Kids learn better being able to see their teachers face-to-face. Many school districts have seen and experienced that, seeing a change in behavior and academics.

For some students, it’s too isolating to learn from home.

“Here’s a tipping point for me: When I’m talking with one our teachers about a 5th grade student, he’s on his remote day and she’s sitting there and he just breaks down and says “I can’t do this anymore. I just can’t do this,” explained Supt. Tim Ames, with the Medical Lake School District. The school district currently has some elementary school students in class, full-time. But a majority of its students are on a hybrid schedule.

Three feet. That’s what Ames, and other school leaders in Eastern Washington, were asking for about a month. Using up three more feet could solve some issues for school districts.

Spacing desks six feet apart in classrooms was one of the biggest challenges for school districts. That 72 inches made it so some students couldn’t learn full-time in class.

“Giving us that room makes all the difference in the world,” said Dave Smith, the superintendent of the Newport School District.

For Smith’s school district, students in kindergarten through eighth grade have been attending class in-person for four days a week. The high school only is there for half the week.

“The 6-foot physical distancing was the only thing keeping us from having, really, our high school students back four days a week, if not five days a week,” Smith said.

Both Smith and Ames, among other superintendents, signed a letter asking Governor Inslee to relax the social distancing rule to 3 feet. That letter was sent to him a month ago, with data from different reports saying 3 feet was safe.

The CDC just changed its guidance last week saying 3 feet was sufficient, as long as students wore masks.

RELATED: Gov. Inslee relaxes social distancing guidelines in schools to 3 feet apart

On Thursday, Inslee made that change.

“This is a major step forward in our continued efforts to make sure students get their feet under them, deal with these mental health challenges, and see the magic that happens between tremendous educators that we have in our state with these students,” he said.

With that step forward for schools, closing that gap between students just a little bit more, both Ames and Smith hope it’ll help them return to normalcy a little bit quicker.

“It creates hope,” Ames said. “It’d be fantastic to finish spring with all our kids in school, doing their stuff, athletics, concerts, etcetera.”

It isn’t as simple as just moving desks closer to each other. School districts will have to go through their respective school boards to make the changes happen. If schedules have to be changed, too, schools will have to notify families and give them some time to adjust.

The Central Valley School District says the school board will have a special meeting in the coming days to consider the new rules.

In a statement, the school district said it was pleased at the announcement, knowing that there are fewer than 200 COVID cases per 100,000 people in Spokane County in the last two week period. The change in social distancing guidelines, for CVSD, will not impact its preschool through 6th grade classes, as those kids are already in class full-time.

Our district will continue to adhere to all other state and local requirements for the health and safety of our students, staff, families and community. We will also continue to provide learning options to our families to meet them at their readiness level as we have throughout this pandemic.

Spokane Public Schools also released a statement regarding the new social distancing rules:

Spokane Public Schools is committed to following the guidance and regulations of public health officials. The most recent revisions to reopening guidelines will be closely evaluated to determine the appropriate next steps to support students and staff, while ensuring compliance with safety requirements. Adjustments to the model for school reopening will require careful planning and negotiations with the Spokane Education Association.

The three-feet social distancing rule only applies to students sitting in classrooms. Students and staff should still be 6-feet away from each other, as well as when students are eating, practicing instruments or doing p.e.

For more details on the updated plan, click here.

READ: Eastern WA school leaders see difference in students learning remotely versus in person