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3 Feet Of Distance Minimum Goal For Bringing Kids Back To School, Education Officials Say

BOSTON (CBS) – After Massachusetts education officials announced on Tuesday that they plan to phase out remote and hybrid learning in the upcoming weeks, they reiterated that state guidance allows for students to have only three feet of social distancing in classrooms.

Jeffrey Riley, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, announced Tuesday the state aims to have all elementary school students learning in person five days a week by April.

During his Tuesday press conference, Gov. Charlie Baker said it is critical to get students back in the classroom.

"With COVID cases and hospitalizations continuing to decline and vaccines well underway, it's time to set our sights on eliminating remote learning by April, starting with elementary schools," Baker said.

"Districts with in-person learning, regardless of how high COVID transmission is in their community, have seen few - if any - examples of in-school transmission."

Riley was asked about how social distancing guidelines will come into play with more students returning to the classroom.

"Our guidance says three to six feet, so we've always said from the beginning that we're recommending three feet and if you can do more, you should do so," Riley said. "I would just remind people that in Europe and Asia, and in fact in many states in this country, people are at three feet or less."

About 20% of schools in Massachusetts are still in a fully remote learning model, impacting about 400,000 students.

"The evidence on this one is crystal clear and has been for month. It's safe to teach kids in the classroom, regardless of community transmission rates, as long as people abide by the protocols," Baker said.

Parents would have the option for their children to learn remotely through the end of the year, something Amanda Brainard of West Boylston strongly supports.

"My kindergartener her only experience with school has been remote," Brainard said. "So I just feel it will be a huge adjustment to send her back to school for just two months."

Trish Kapur has two kids in the Belmont school system. Her second grader is hybrid learning and strongly supports returning to the classroom for his own mental health.

"I've seen some behavioral changes in him that the frustration is building," Kapur said. "The days that he wakes up and goes into school are completely different from the days he knows he will be home all day."

Somerville parent Leah Bloom said remote learning is no longer an option for her third grade son. "It was really traumatic for him and he was definitely not learning anything," Bloom told WBZ.

She says it got so bad she quit working last year so she could homeschool her son. Eventually she enrolled him in a small private school, where he's been for the past five weeks. "He has peers he can interact with, without a screen between them," Bloom said. "The difference is night and day he has his life back."

Massachusetts Teachers Association president Merrie Najimy told WBZ-TV the state should instead be focused on getting educators prioritized in its vaccination plan.

"To have full in-person learning contradicts the science of six feet of distancing," Najimy said. "So what the commissioner is doing is waving a magic wand saying problems are solved, and then implementing unilateral authority and usurping the decisions of every school committee."

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