Chester County health officials relax rules for in-person learning

UPPER DARBY, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- School districts in Chester and Delaware counties are considering their biggest return to in-person learning since the start of the pandemic.

"I think that students need to get back into our schools. It's best for students to be in classrooms learning," said Dan McGarry, the superintendent of Upper Darby School District.

The district is one of 29 across the two counties that is considering expanding in-person learning following updated guidance from the health department. The new guidance relaxes social distancing requirements from six feet to three.

"That's going to require public discussion and a vote on our health plan, but we feel like we're moving in a direction to get more kids into our schools," said McGarry.

In a letter sent to superintendents Friday, the health department said it recognizes the urgent need to get students back in the classroom.

"We have always wanted to have our classrooms open in the most safe situation. We're still looking at a pandemic," said Nancy Dunn, a middle school Spanish teacher and the president of the Chichester Education Association.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association says it's against this change in guidelines.

"What we need is to prioritize teachers in terms of getting the vaccine, we need to be looking at improving the ventilation system in all of our schools," said Dunn.

The union also points out relaxing distancing rules from six feet to three, which goes against CDC studies. In Monday's White House briefing, the COVID task force stressed the importance of masking and six feet of distancing in schools.

"I'm worried about that disparity and I'm worried about what this does to the most vulnerable population," said Laura Detre, a parent in West Goshen Township.

She says she's fine with virtual learning for now; other parents want to see their students back in class full time.

"If there's no in-person class, they're gonna be in daycare, so at the end of the day, this is better than day care," said Matt Uon, a parent with children at Aronimink Elementary School.

"Wash your hands, keep a little distance, and I feel safe, yeah," said Dontae Swinton, another parent.

Upper Darby said it won't be making changes right away based on the updated guidelines, but it could speed up in-person learning and have more students back in mid-March.
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