The CDC earlier suggested that schools strictly enforce 6 feet of distancing in areas with high rates of Covid-19, Xinhua news agency reported.
The new guidelines announced on Friday still encourage 6 feet of distancing around teachers, and between adults and students at all times in the school building.
The CDC also calls for maintaining 6 feet of distance when masks cannot be worn, such as when eating, and during activities such as singing, band practice, and sports and exercise.
Middle school and high school students should be put into small groups known as “cohorting” in areas of high community transmission, said the CDC.
Otherwise, students should still be 6 feet apart. By easing spacing requirements, the new guidance may make it easier for many of the nation’s estimated 57 million K-12 students to return to classrooms in-person.
“These updated recommendations provide the evidence-based roadmap to help schools reopen safely, and remain open, for in-person instruction,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.
However, the new guideline also drew concerns. Becky Pringle, President of the US National Education Association, said educators want to see “far more detail about the rationale” and warned the 3-feet rule would be “particularly challenging” for large urban schools that have not had the resources yet to implement other mitigation measures.
“We are concerned that the CDC has changed one of the basic rules for how to ensure school safety without demonstrating certainty that the change is justified by the science and can be implemented in a manner that does not detract from the larger long-term needs of students,” she said in a statement.
President Joe Biden vowed to accelerate nationwide efforts to meet his goal of safely opening the majority of K-8 schools in his first 100 days in office.