Anya Sczerzenie, Contributing Writer
In the classrooms where VCU student teacher Cougar Conley teaches music class, the fourth graders stand 3 feet apart. They’re close enough together that when the time comes to learn songs on the recorder, they aren’t allowed to actually play.
“We tell them to ‘decapitate the instrument,’” Conley said. “They have to take the mouthpiece off the recorder. Their masks stay on, and they learn the note fingering in class then go home and practice.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance on March 19 stating that students in K-12 schools only need to maintain a 3-foot distance from one another to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This marks a change from the previously recommended 6-foot social distancing guidelines which have been in place since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze can spread into the air up to 6 feet away, according to the CDC. The droplets can spread even farther in poorly ventilated spaces during activities that involve heavy breathing, such as singing or exercising.
At least 3 feet of distance, when combined with “universal and correct use of masks,” hand-washing and cleaning of school facilities, will allow schools to safely reopen, according to the CDC.
The CDC’s guidance cites a science brief on COVID-19 among children. This brief does not apply to colleges or universities.
The brief states that less than 10% of COVID-19 cases in the United States have been among children. It states that in-person schools have not been identified as a vector of transmission for the virus, and do not appear to lead to increased community transmission among adults.
“Increases in case incidence among school-aged children and school reopenings do not appear to pre-date increases in community transmission,” the brief stated.
According to Virginia Department of Health data, there have been 90,829 reported cases of COVID-19 in people under 20 years old, which is less than 15% of total cases in Virginia. 481 of those cases lead to hospitalization, and four of those cases have resulted in death.
K-12 schools across the country are opening their doors to students. In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Feb. 5 that K-12 schools would provide in-person learning options by March 15. The governor stated that by focusing on “mitigation measures” like wearing masks, cleaning classrooms and school facilities and practicing social distancing, schools would be able to reopen safely.
“We know that children learn better in classrooms and that going to school is vital for their social-emotional needs and for receiving critical services like meals,” Northam stated in the press release. “It is also important for our youngest learners, students with disabilities, and those with limited access to technology who have struggled most with remote learning.”
Some students in VCU’s School of Education, including Conley, are spending a semester teaching at local K-12 schools, where the recommended practices are being put in place.
Conley, a senior music education major, said the children he teaches have to follow the 3-foot distancing guidelines in regular classrooms. They still keep 6 feet apart in the music room. Only the fifth graders have music class in the music rooms, Conley said.
“They have dots on the floor that are 6 feet apart to stand on. The music room is really open, and there’s a lot more storage,” Conley said. “In the general classrooms, the desks are 3 feet apart, and they’re taking up all the space.”
Conley said he never feels unsafe when student-teaching at Cold Harbor Elementary School in Mechanicsville.
“The kids are pretty good about maintaining their distance,” Conley said. “Everything gets wiped down after use by each child.”
Conley said he and the other teachers have already received the COVID-19 vaccine.
“If I felt unsafe, I wouldn’t be going to the school,” Conley said.