The N.C. State Board of Education has voted unanimously to switch social-distancing requirements under a “Plan A” return to public school classrooms to 3 feet rather than the previous six feet.

The new rules are in accordance with new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that cut in half the social-distancing requirements in K-12 classrooms. Those apply to elementary, middle, and high schools.

The vote came during an uncharacteristically short meeting for the State Board of Education last week — just 15 minutes — during which the board also voted to approve a $500,000 contract with Duke University’s ABC Collaborative to study COVID-19 spread among middle and high schools returning to “Plan A” in-classroom instruction.

Shortly after the CDC announced the revised guidelines on March 19, the N.C. Association of Educators put out a statement calling the 3-foot requirement into question.

“For the sake of public trust and clarity, we urge the CDC to provide far more detail about the rationale for the change from 6 feet to 3 feet for students in schools, clearly and publicly account for differences in types of school environments, new virus variants, differences in mitigation compliance, and how study participants were tested for the virus,” said NCAE president Tamika Kelly.

“We are concerned that the CDC has changed one of the basic rules for how to ensure school safety without demonstrating certainty that the change is justified by the science and can be implemented in a manner that does not distract from the larger long-term needs of students,” Kelly added.

But Dr. Terry Stoops, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation, pointed out that board members were simply following the guidance of the federal government.

“Members of the State Board of Education had a choice: Approve a plan that is consistent with CDC guidelines or surrender to the fearmongering of the NCAE,” Stoops said. “Fortunately, board members chose to follow scientists and not skeptics.”

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, and GOP lawmakers recently came to a deal on a school reopening plan that largely turns over the decision of reopening for in-class instruction to local school boards. The NCAE was also in opposition to that agreement. The deal came after Cooper vetoed an earlier attempt by the legislature to reopen schools.