WASHINGTON—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten issued the following statement after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention altered its physical distancing guidelines for school classrooms:
“No one wants to end remote and hybrid education more than educators, parents and students—just ask anyone who’s had to teach or learn with simultaneous online and in-person instruction.
“While we hope the CDC is right and these new studies convince the community that the most enduring safety standard of this pandemic—the 6-foot rule—can be jettisoned if we all wear masks, we will reserve judgement until we review them, especially as they apply in districts with high community spread and older buildings with ventilation challenges.
“Kids need to be in school, and the AFT has advocated consistently for safely reopening in-person learning since last April, but we are concerned this change has been driven by a lack of physical space rather than the hard science on aerosol exposure and transmission.
“Until today, the literature on reducing distancing has been inconclusive at best and misleading at worst. The studies so far have often approached distancing in a vacuum, without measuring the effect of changes to other mitigation strategies, including masking.
“The good news is we’re making progress—the latest data show 80 percent of schools are now offering some in-person instruction. And with widespread vaccine availability, it's far less likely educators and staff will fall ill, even as we continue to worry about our kids and those at greater risk.
“We have asked the CDC to include urban and under-resourced districts in future studies, something it has not yet done. In the meantime—thanks to President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan—we have the resources to roll out testing and vaccinations, plan for the next school year, and help support a comprehensive, voluntary summer school program packed with joy and enrichment.
“Let’s start working now to tackle the education, well-being and mitigation strategies needed to help schools reopen in the fall in a way that’s as close as ‘normal’ as possible, to help kids thrive. Our families and children deserve nothing less.”