New study looks to cut distance between desks by half, parents say this helps bring students back to the classroom

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — After one year of remote and hybrid learning, some parents say it’s time to get their children back into the classroom five days a week.

“Right now our priority is to get kids back in school,” said Tarja Parssinen of WNY Students First. “We’ve seen really changes within our kids mentally, physically, academically. It’s been 365 now and so we’re really trying to ramp up the pressure.”

One way they say districts can bring students back full time is by bringing them closer together. A new study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases says three feet apart may be as safe as six feet if everyone is wearing a mask.

Amy Leach of WNY Students First says the way schools are set up, this might be the only way right now to safely bring the students back full time.

“You have to go three feet because a lot of the schools don’t have the space in their classrooms to work all the kids back with the six feet ruling,” Leach said.

But Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein says the current policy of keeping desks six feet apart is consistent with CDC guidelines.

“Local health departments in New York State are not allowed to develop policies for the schools,” Dr. Burstein said. “Those policies are developed by the New York State Education Department and the New York State Health Department.”

And despite the low transmission rates inside classrooms, Dr. Burstein says this week alone there were 176 COVID-19 cases inside area schools.

“Yes, school is a safe place. We’re not seeing a lot of transmission inside the classrooms,” Dr. Burstein said. “However, there are schools we are seeing transmission [in] and again, this is in a circumstance [where] the classroom is practicing six feet social distancing and masking.”

During a COVID-19 briefing at the White House Monday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky says the organization will take all of the social distancing data, including from the recent study, into consideration when revisiting school guidelines.

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