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Researchers say narrowing social-distancing gap in schools is possible

A change in pandemic rules is getting our teachers and students one step closer to normal.

Researchers say a safe “social distance” in schools is now just 3-feet apart, a smooth sign on the road to reopening.

A spokesperson with the School District of Lee County said Monday the district needs guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Department of Health before any changes are made to district policy. One mom says it might not make much of a difference here anyhow.

“He had half of his lung removed, so when it comes to respiratory illnesses, he gets sick pretty easily,” said Shelby Vannaman, whose son attends school in Collier County.

“So when it comes to COVID, I was terrified.”

Sending her first grader, Sheamus, back to the classroom was a hard decision.

“It was either send him back to school so he doesn’t fail and risk the chance of getting sick, or go back to online learning and make him repeat the grade,” Vannaman said.

“It has been a very touch-and-go type of thing, trying to tiptoe around this virus so he gets what he needs while not being put on the back burner by this virus.”

School district policies like masking and handwashing made Vannaman’s decision easier and Sheamus is back in the classroom.

New research hopes to give parents like Vannaman – and educators, too – more confidence in those choices.

“There was no difference in districts that opted for a 3-foot of distancing policy versus those that opted for a 6-foot of distancing policy. So we found similar rates in students and staff,” said Dr. Westyn Branch-Elliman, an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University.

“It is clear that the body of evidence does suggest that 3 feet of distancing is safe in school settings,” said Dr. Elissa Schechter-Perkins, an associated professor of emergency medicine at Boston University.

Not everyone is convinced the change would make a difference in Florida.

“I feel like that may be beneficial for them. But also, I don’t see that as too much of a difference because I don’t really see it from going into the school,” Vannaman said.

“In Florida throughout the state, we know that about 50% of our students returned in person at the start of the year, and that number has increased to well over 80%,” said Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association.

“I don’t even think 3 feet deep is happening in some of our classrooms.”

The study’s authors say their results do not apply to the community as a whole because schools are controlled environments, with good adherence to the rules, like wearing masks, and that may not be the same case outside school walls.

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Reporter:Veronica Marshall
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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