- Associated Press - Friday, July 10, 2020

HONOLULU (AP) - Education professionals, state officials and parents in Hawaii are considering how close to allow children to get in classrooms as schools reopen for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak.

Hawaii public schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto drew opposition when she said children’s desks could be as close as 3 feet (0.91 meters) if facing forward, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Thursday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends seating students at least 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart when feasible.

Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee called Kishimoto’s plan “ludicrous” and “dangerous.”

Special education teacher Amy Suzuki urged education officials to mandate the full extent of social distancing in classrooms.

“The thought of schools allowing three feet distancing when the current health recommendation is six feet distancing is appalling,” Suzuki wrote as part of online testimony for a state Board of Education meeting Thursday.

State Health Director Bruce Anderson and state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park recommended 3 to 6 feet of spacing in classrooms after weighing the risk of infection versus the benefits of children being in school.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also called for placing student desks 3 to 6 feet apart when feasible.

The academy advocated students attending school in person, saying the experience is important for academics and for social, emotional and physical health. Reopening schools also benefits the community as a whole, the organization said.

Children and adolescents appear less likely to contract the coronavirus or have severe symptoms and seem less likely to infect others, the academy said.

Adhering to a distance of 6 feet in Hawaii could mean limiting the number of students in a classroom to eight or fewer, meaning most could not attend and would have to use remote learning. If spacing requirements reduce the time children spend in school, the harm may outweigh the potential benefits, the academy said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some - especially older adults and people with existing health problems - it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

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