KENT COUNTY, Mich. — The Kent County Health Department (KCHD) and area schools are piloting a study that reduces the amount of space between students in the classroom.
The study cuts social distancing in pre-K-through-eighth-grade classrooms from three feet to six feet. Its goal is to reduce “over-quarantining.”
“If you have a seven-year-old child, and all of a sudden you get a call that they’re fine, but they were close to another child who tested positive, and they need to stay home for many days in a row, you’re given essentially just a few minutes' notice… we know that’s extremely disruptive,” said Dan Behm, superintendent at Forest Hills Public Schools.
Prior to the study, anyone within six feet of a positive person for more than 15 minutes would be required to stay home for 10 days. Behm says under the rule, a single positive case impacted anywhere from a few students to upwards of 25 kids.
“Getting rid of the excessive quarantine, that builds trust in the actual quarantine process when we need to do that,” Behm said. “When we over-quarantine, people tend to disregard it more. It also just provides students with the great opportunity to be in school. We know for the vast majority of students, that’s the biggest difference for their educational quality.”
Joann Hoganson, director of community wellness at KCHD, said the decision was made after data showed little transmission within schools.
“When young children were testing positive, in most cases they had a household contact,” Hoganson said. “What we we’re not seeing was significant transmission of the virus in the classroom setting, especially in the classroom where children are usually sitting at their seats, and the seats are as far apart as the school can get them to accommodate the need for social distancing, and these children are wearing masks.”
The study began at the end of February and lasts six weeks.
According to Hoganson, there has not been a spike in positive tests among school-aged children.
If a student does test positive, quarantines are still required for the close contacts.
“Most children learn best in a school setting, and most children are going to have their needs met when they’re in a school,” Hoganson said. “They’re going to have a good, healthy lunch, they’re going to have the eyes of a teacher on them… Having them in school is very important.”
Under current CDC guidelines, six feet is recommended.
However, a study published last week found if schools continue to follow other safety practices, there is no significant differences between the two distances.
The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends at least three feet of space.
Barring any increases in cases linked to schools, Hoganson says the policy will likely remain in effect after the study ends. She says it may expand to high schools after spring break.
“Stay vigilant; we’re close to the end of this,” Behm said. “These are some of the tweaks we make to merry up with the science that is evolving.”