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Students who have been vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus will not have to wear face masks in school this fall unless they are riding the school bus, according to guidance released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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While not mandatory, many districts are expected to follow the new guidelines when it comes to mask requirements for students returning to in-person learning in the fall.

“We’re at a new point in the pandemic that we’re all really excited about,” and so it’s time to update the guidance, said Erin Sauber-Schatz, who leads the CDC task force that prepares recommendations designed to keep Americans safe from COVID-19.

The new guidelines state that students can be required to wear a face mask if a school district decides they are needed.

“Achieving high levels of COVID-19 vaccination among eligible students as well as teachers, staff, and household members is one of the most critical strategies to help schools safely resume full operations,” the CDC stated.

Currently, only children ages 12 and above can get a COVID-19 vaccination.

The new recommendations continue to call for unvaccinated students and staff to wear masks and suggests that schools offer voluntary routine testing at least once a week.

The guidelines also call for 3 feet of distancing between unvaccinated students in the classroom. The CDC says the recommendations should not prevent classrooms from reopening.

In addition, the guidelines say that all school bus drivers and their passengers, whether they are vaccinated or not, need to wear a mask while traveling to and from school.

Not included in the guidelines is a requirement that teachers and vaccine-eligible students be vaccinated. The agency on Friday didn’t recommend that measure because it is considered a state and local policy decision, CDC officials told The Associated Press.

The Biden administration has said it will not put a federal mandate in place requiring vaccinations for teachers, instead leaving the decision in the hands of local school districts.

The new guidance for schools says:

  • No one at school needs to wear masks at recess or in most other outdoor situations. However, unvaccinated people are advised to wear masks if they are in a crowd for an extended period of time, like in the stands at a football game.
  • Ventilation and handwashing continue to be important. Students and staff also should stay home when they are sick.
  • Testing remains an important way to prevent outbreaks. But the CDC also says people who are fully vaccinated do not need to participate in such screening.
  • Separating students into smaller groups, or cohorts, continues to be a good way to help reduce the spread of the virus. But the CDC discouraged putting vaccinated and unvaccinated kids in separate groups, saying schools shouldn’t stigmatize any group or perpetuate academic, racial or other tracking.