BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Governor Kay Ivey amended the state’s Safer at Home order Monday, based on the updated guidance from the CDC about social distancing in schools.
The governor expressed optimism about what this means for schools saying:
“Alabama continues moving in the right direction, and we feel very optimistic that COVID-19 will soon be in our rearview mirrors. Until then, we want to ensure that we are doing what we know is right in Alabama, based on recommendations by the CDC and other experts. That also means that we can continue taking reasonable steps to return to normal. Alabama schools, for the most part, are setting the example for the rest of the nation, because the majority of our students and teachers are back in the classroom. These latest guidelines from the CDC make the return to the classroom even easier for our schools, and I hope that districts here in Alabama and around the country follow the science and get our kids back in the classroom. Students have not had a voice during the pandemic, and I think we can all agree that it is past time for students and teachers to have the opportunity to be back in the classroom.”
The new guidance now says instead of 6 feet of social distancing, 3 feet could be acceptable and safe in communities of low transmission, with mask use still mandated.
According to the American Federation of Teachers, 80% of schools are now offering some kind of in-person instruction. Local district leaders who have students report to buildings say the most immediate impact would come with tracking cases.
“We’re back in the classroom, so the only impact I can think of initially would be contact tracing. Right now, we look at the 6 feet 15 minute rule,” said Alan Cosby, Superintendent Etowah County Schools.
“I think more parents would feel better about sending their children back school,” said Marrianne Hayward, Jefferson County American Federation of Teachers.
But union leaders balance the pros of the relaxed guidance with continued concerns about safety as the deadline on the mask mandate in Alabama ticks closer.
“I feel like if we’ve gone all this time with 6 feet as the safety standard then they were changing it to get more kids in the school building,” said Hawyard, “As the mask order ends I think it’s going to be harder to enforce wearing masks.”
State education department leaders say schools can enforce the mask mandate similar to the way they enforce school uniforms. Union leaders say some districts in Jefferson County will continue with masks, Fairfield City Schools has decided it will require students and staff to wear masks for the remainder of the year.
Etowah County School leaders say no firm decision has been made about masks yet.