ACPS School Board Changes Distancing Requirements

Ethan Gotsch

Going against the guidance of Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, the ACPS School Board passed a motion on April 8 that will change the physical distancing requirements between students to three feet from six feet when other mitigation strategies are being used, following new guidelines released by the CDC in March.

School Board member Michelle Rief made the motion that ACPS move to three feet between desks “to the greatest extent possible” for the rest of the 2020-21 school year, adding, “I am committed to returning as many students as possible to in-person learning this school year.” This motion passed unanimously.

According to Julia Burgos, Chief of School and Community Relations, “this will not result in three feet of distancing in all situations in all schools. For example, students must be six feet from adults and must be six feet apart for activities such as eating, singing and exercising. Also, the distancing must remain six feet for secondary students when community transmission rates are high.”

It is unclear when the new policy will be implemented and when more students will be brought back into school buildings. Burgos said “staff is reviewing the CDC guidelines and planning for a change in physical distancing, and we will share more information as soon as it is available.” 

The ACPS website, as of April 12, still includes social distancing FAQs that were updated on April 6. In response to the question, “What are the operational considerations that factored into ACPS’ decision to maintain six feet of distance?” the website states that the definition of a close contact includes individuals who are within six feet of a COVID-19 case for 15 or more cumulative minutes over a 24-hour period according to the Virginia Department of Health and the Alexandria Health Department, and that “classrooms with desks that are three feet apart will result in higher numbers of students who are required to quarantine when there is an identified case.”

Theogony reached out to several teachers to find out their reactions to this change, but most declined to comment. One teacher, who requested anonymity, supported ACPS following CDC guidance of three feet between students as many other local school districts have done. However, this teacher cautioned that everyone in school buildings would need to wear masks at all times, and that ACPS would need to closely monitor community spread and revert to six feet if COVID-19 spread increases.