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A classroom at Malibu Elementary School configured for 6 feet between students. Scott Steepleton/Surfside News
Scott Steepleton, Editor
11:21 am PDT March 19, 2021

It’s a good thing Christopher Hertz didn’t order see-through dividers when planning for the reopening of Malibu Elementary School earlier this month.

The principal of the Point Dume campus told Surfside News that barriers between students was no way to teach during the pandemic.

“They’re staying 6 feet apart and they’re wearing a mask,” he said at the time. “The air quality is good and we’re wiping things down.”

In addition, he said, educators are preaching and practicing personal hygiene.

“It’s really not about putting kids inside plexiglass boxes,” said Hertz.

Good thing, because guidelines announced Friday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention removes recommendations for physical barriers.

Until now, the federal government has said elementary students must be 6 feet apart indoors. (Secondary-grade guidelines were a work in progress.) On top of that, some schools adopted earlier recommendations to add plexiglass and other barriers between students. In some cases, these have taken the form of individual tents.

But now the CDC says 3 feet is OK for all grades, while still mandating wearing masks, ensuring classrooms are properly ventilated and adhering to other rules about hygiene, staying home when feeling ill and not sharing items in class.

The one caveat is that 6 feet is still recommended when in tight quarters or during sports, music, singing and other activities “when increased exhalation occurs.” The guidance here is to move these activities outdoors or to large, well-ventilated spaces when possible.

Despite pushback from some teacher groups the CDC says, “Evidence suggests that many K–12 schools that have strictly implemented prevention strategies have been able to safely open for in-person instruction and remain open.”

Whatever schools do, the CDC says priority should be given to “universal and correct use of masks and physical distancing.”

Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District follows guidance of the California and Los Angeles County departments of public health, said district spokeswoman Gail Pinsker, and is awaiting word from local agencies on any recommendations.

"We will have a letter from (Superintendent) Dr. (Ben) Drati later today that discusses this and our readiness."

Federal officials say teachers and other adults working at schools need to eliminate or decrease “nonessential in-person interactions” during meetings, lunches and other situations “that could lead to adult-to-adult transmission.”

After all, adult-to-adult transmission is much more common than child-to-adult transmission.