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Washington moves distance requirements from 6 to 3 feet in schools

First grade students sit at social distanced desks at the Green Mountain School on Feb. 18, 2021 in Woodland, Washington. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

Gov. Inslee announced Thursday that Washington state is moving the social distance requirement between students in K-12 from 6 feet to 3 feet, which is consistent with the revised guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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“Washington is embracing new guidelines that are safe that will allow even more students back into schools, on a more normal setting,” Gov. Inslee said.

The 3 feet of distance is a minimum requirement, and school districts in the state still have the option to remain at 6 feet for now. By summer and fall, however, assuming there’s a continued reduction in cases, no district should be using the 6-foot minimum between students.

“This is very important because schools have been limited now by this 6 foot requirement,” Inslee said. “And due to spatial requirements, it has not allowed them to return to normal, everyday activities in the classroom. So today, I am ordering that we make this new standard available for all schools that want to adopt it, and they can do this immediately, there is no waiting period.”

“This order will allow school districts the flexibility to make the right decisions and the right choices for their students, and their educators, and their families, and their larger communities,” he added.

The governor said the state knows this distance is safe, not only because of the CDC’s guidance, but because there are thousands of schools operating safely across the country under this guidance.

The Washington Association of School Administrators, which represents school district leaders across the state, had previously sent a letter to the governor and the state Department of Health asking for flexibility in the 6-foot rule for physical distancing in schools.

The CDC’s updated guidance recommends that staff remain 6 feet away from other staff members, and to maintain 6 feet of space between students and staff. It also recommends 6 feet of space between students in certain circumstances, such as when they are eating.

For students in middle and high school that are not in cohorts, it’s recommended that students remain 6 feet apart when community prevalence is above 200 cases per 100,000 population.

The order from Gov. Inslee takes place immediately and applies to all school districts, whether or not a given district is in a hybrid model now or not. That said, families who are concerned about returning to classrooms for any reason will continue to have a remote learning option for their students.

Educators, students, and everyone in the school buildings should continue to wear masks to limit the transmission of COVID-19.

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“We know everyone’s going to continue to use caution and follow these protocols, and that’s what has allowed us to be so successful to date in our reopening plans,” Inslee said.

Teachers and school staff are also eligible to receive the COVID vaccine in Washington after the state added educators and staff for pre-K through 12th grade, and child care providers, to Phase 1B-1 of vaccine eligibility.

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