Less than 48 hours after SMMUSD Superintendent Ben Drati said local students would fully return to campus once social distancing requirements were eased, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced students can safely sit just 3 feet apart in the classroom as long as they wear masks.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has not changed its policies as of Friday, but Chief Science Officer Paul Simon said Friday districts may soon have the discretion to move desks a tad bit closer together in the classroom.

“While we’ve not had internal discussions yet on this, I’m fairly confident that we will incorporate that CDC guidance into our own guidance for schools… again… let me be clear, we’ve not had the internal discussions, but I’m gonna go out on a limb here a little bit and say that I think we will,” Simon said. “Of course, today it was announced so it’s the first time we’re actually seeing it.”

Simon went on to say he trusted the CDC mostly because it is a science-based organization, but that doesn’t mean county officials will not take the time to decide how the new guidelines will be applied locally.

“As I began to review the materials today, they clearly have done a pretty thorough search of the literature and they think there’s good evidence to indicate that the three-foot distance is safe — but in very specific circumstances in the school environment… it’s specifically in the classroom. Simon said. “I don’t want folks to say, ‘Well gee, three-feet is fine virtually anywhere.’ That’s definitely not the case. It was very specific in their guidelines; three feet in the classroom.”

The guidelines also call for students to wear masks and for there to be cohorts, which is a practice already instituted in local elementary schools, according to Drati, who spoke only a few days ago about what SMMUSD schools can and can’t do in a pandemic.

“As mentioned previously, we are obligated to follow the guidelines set by the California Department of Public Health and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH). Based on current law, we would be acting illegally if we were to violate the state and local directives. As of yesterday, LACDPH informed us that they needed to examine this new guidance from the CDC and would most likely need a few weeks to do so. That’s their language, not ours,” said Drati in a letter to parents sent out Friday.

On Friday, a few days after he expressed confidence that SMMUSD schools can accommodate relaxed social distancing requirements, Drati reiterated the district is preparing for any coming changes to County health guidelines.

“We are preparing now so that our schools are ready for any reduction of physical distancing requirements.

“We will be ready to adjust quickly to any change made by our guiding agency, LACDPH,” he said, adding, “As we have said before, we are committed to expanding as safely and as inclusively and as broadly as possible based on science and the direction of our LACDPH. We also remain committed to providing the best instruction and best educational continuity for students.”

Brennon@smdp.com