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March 31, 2021

Pennsylvania relaxes social distancing guidelines for students in classrooms

State officials also shortened the time that schools need to be closed following a COVID-19 outbreak

Education Schools
Pennsylvania schools social distancing MChe Lee/via Unsplash

The CDC recently updated guidance reducing physical distancing recommendations between students in classrooms from six to three feet.

Some Pennsylvania students will no longer need to remain six feet apart in their classrooms beginning Monday. 

State officials issued updated guidelines Tuesday that enable schools to reduce their physical distancing requirements to three feet in many settings. 

All elementary school students will be allowed to remain three feet apart while in their classrooms. Middle and high school students can stay three feet apart in counties with low or moderate COVID-19 spread. But they should remain at least six feet apart if cohorting is not possible in counties with substantial transmission rates. 

Six feet of distance is also encouraged to continue in the following situations:

Between teachers and staff in the school building, as well as between adults and students
•When masks can't be worn, such as when eating
•During indoor activities when increased exhalation occurs, such as singing, shouting, band or sports and exercise
•In common areas such as school lobbies and auditoriums

All students, educators and staff must continue to wear face masks while in school.

The relaxed social distancing guidelines are based on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recent recommendation to cut physical distancing to three feet in most classroom settings.

The School District of Philadelphia, which brought students back earlier this month for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, cannot reduce its social distancing rules without the approval of the teachers union. 

 State officials also have updated guidance dictating how schools should handle confirmed COVID-19 cases. The new guidelines reduce the number of days that schools should stay closed for in-person learning following an outbreak.

They consider the level of coronavirus transmission in a county, the size of the school and the number of school cases within a 14-day period. The breakdown can be found on the Department of Education's website.

"Our updated recommendations bring us a step closer to a full return to in-person teaching and learning across Pennsylvania," acting Secretary of Education Noe Ortega said. 

"While recommendations on physical distancing, closures and quarantines may have changed, the importance to adhering to all health and safety guidelines has not – it is imperative that we remain committed to protecting our students, teachers, and staff."

Since the academic year began, Pennsylvania officials have provided recommendations for the learning models schools should pursue amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In-person instruction is recommended for schools in counties with low levels of community spread. Hybrid learning is encouraged in counties experiencing moderate transmission, and for elementary students in counties with substantial levels of transmission. Remote learning is advised for middle and high school students in counties with substantial transmission.

Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties are all currently experiencing substantial levels of COVID-19 transmission, according to statewide data.

Earlier this month, Pennsylvania made educators and staff eligible to receive its allotment of Johnson & Johnson's single-dose COVID-19 vaccine. State officials said they are nearly finished inoculating teachers and school staffers. 

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