Even With Social Distancing, Mask-Wearing ‘Strongly Recommended’ for Students
School districts are facing many challenges as they plan to reopen schools in the fall. Perhaps the biggest challenge is guidance asking districts to ensure social distancing - decreasing classroom and bus capacities significantly.
While districts work to submit their reopening plans to the state by the July 31 deadline, questions remain over the specifics of the extensive guidance provided by the Department of Health and NYSED.
In particular, questions have arisen over whether students will be asked to wear a mask and maintain social distance, or is it an either/or situation?
The union that represents teachers in NY, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) say the guidance is clear: students must socially distance and wear masks. According to a Q&A posted for its members, NYSUT says "the NYS Department of Health’s guidelines are clear — six feet of social distancing and a mask are required for the safety of students, families, educators and our communities since COVID-19 is an airborne virus. It’s not negotiable."
Under DOH guidelines, classroom and other rooms “should not exceed 50% of the maximum capacity of the space, unless it is designed for use by a single occupant.”
NYSED updated its reopening FAQs after teachers unions raised the issue, saying, pursuant to Department of Health guidance, "schools must ensure that appropriate social distancing (i.e. 6 feet/barriers) is maintained between individuals while in school facilities and on school grounds (inclusive of students, faculty, and staff)."
"As a baseline, face coverings are required to be worn any time or place that individuals cannot maintain appropriate social distancing. Further, face coverings are “strongly recommended” by the New York Department of Health at all times, except for meals and instruction with appropriate social distancing. However, schools can require face coverings at all times, even during instruction; and it is strongly recommended in areas with higher rates of COVID-19 community infection."
This clarification could affect bus capacities as well, if students must remain 6 feet apart, regardless of mask-wearing.
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