After the release of updated guidance on social distancing in schools, Massachusetts' teachers union reiterated its call Friday for Gov. Charlie Baker to push back the reopening date for schools.
The new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it's safe for students to be three feet apart in classrooms if everyone is wearing masks, down from the previous guidance of six feet.
Saying that COVID cases are relatively high and noting the spread of COVID variants, the Massachusetts Teachers Association argued for the school reopening date to be pushed back from April 5, when grades K-5 are set to resume in-school classes.
The delay is necessary to increase other ways of mitigating the virus' spread, including vaccinations for school employees and surveillance testing.
"Our members want to be with their students. We truly hope that three feet is safe enough, especially for our unvaccinated students and their families. But we can’t let down our guard," a statement from the union said.
Teachers unions have already backed a delay in returning to classes full-time over the risk presented by COVID-19. Gov. Charlie Baker and other proponents of in-person learning argue there's no evidence that school is where the virus is spreading.
Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to approve emergency regulations granting the state education commissioner authority to determine when hybrid and remote models may no longer count towards required student learning time hours. That effectively requires any school district without a waiver to bring students back full-time.
After elementary schools return April 5, middle schools are scheduled to join them April 28. No date has been yet set for high schoolers' return.
Winchester High School junior Kayla Harrison feels that going back to class in-person full-time would be unsafe, so she started a petition online to get the state's commissioner of education to reverse his decision forcing classrooms open.
"I'm concerned about contracting the virus," Harrison said
Thousands of people have signed the petition and an Instagram post about it has gotten more than 2,200 likes, while a video on TikTok has reached 30,000 people, including some town leaders.
"The chairman of the school committee reached out to me when he found out about my petition and asked me to speak at a school committee meeting," she said.
Massachusetts Commissioner of Education Jeffrey C. Riley didn't respond to a request for comment Friday.
Boston Medical Center epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Linas said the CDC's new guidance makes sense.
“There is some risk at three feet and some risk at six feet, and, frankly, there could be risk at 12 feet. But the risk is not really measurably higher.”
The CDC's updated guidance comes after some school districts ignored the previous six-foot guidance and held classes with desks three feet apart, allowing officials to study the spread of COVID in the different scenarios, officials said.
"These updated recommendations provide the evidence-based roadmap to help schools reopen safely, and remain open, for in-person instruction," Rochelle P. Walensky, the director of the CDC and a former head of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, said in a statement.