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'Three feet with masks is just as safe' | DC parents urge DCPS to loosen COVID guidelines

Advocates say new recommendations from the World Health Organization could allow more children in the classroom.

WASHINGTON — A new parent-led petition advocates for the safe return to the classroom for more children in D.C. Public Schools, with only 9,000 students out of 52,000 back to in-person so far.

The parents' list of demands indicates the current guidelines limiting classroom size and enforcing 6-feet of social distancing in DCPS are too strict, too outdated and make it impossible to include more students.

“The current guidelines are imposing severe space and staff limitations on schools,” said the author of the Change.Org petition Katerina Savvas, “There's a lot of science showing that three feet with masks is just as safe.” 

The parents point to these updated guidelines by the World Health Organization that recommend 1 meter, or 3 feet, of distance in classrooms.

“And there's one limitation that prohibits teacher mixing with more than three cohorts of 11 children. And that's just plainly impossible to teach six subjects,” added Svetlana Vtyurina. 

“We know a lot more now than a year ago about this disease, and what's safe and what's not,” said David Alpert. 

“This is a crisis. These children are being crippled,” said Natasha Bajuk, “We have to get past the fear of what this virus is, it's going to be with us for quite some time as the science is showing. We cannot have everyone stuck where we are today. It's simply not working.”

The parents’ children all attend school in Upper Northwest like Ross Elementary, Janney Elementary, Deal Middle and School Without Walls High School.  

They said they are aware of the optics and said this isn’t about race or neighborhood so they’re working to get their message out to all DCPS families in all 8 Wards.

“There has to be even more work done in these wards to make education in person quality education, five days a week a reality for all of them,” added Bajuk.  “We are not advocating for everybody to go back,” said Savvas, “There are a lot of students and teachers who will have to remain virtual, and we completely understand that. But there should be no reason for all the students who want to go back in person to not have that opportunity.”

DCPS referred WUSA9 to D.C. Health for comment on this story.  

UPDATE: After this story was published, WUSA9 received the following statement from DC Health:

"CDC and WHO sometimes have differing recommendations. DC Health follows CDC guidelines for COVID-19 mitigation measures, including physical distancing. To ensure students and staff are safe at school, it is important that layers of mitigation measures are implemented to prevent unnecessary exposures, allowing classrooms to continue to function even if there is a case in a student or staff member. DC Health is reviewing the guidance after the updated CDC recommendations and is in active discussion with stakeholders to implement changes that are consistent with best public health practice."  

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