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Districts prepare for back to school without state guidance

"The school year can't start soon enough"
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Posted at 4:18 PM, Aug 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-06 17:22:46-04

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — "Most districts are planning for as typical a return to school as possible,” stated Matthew Bystrak, superintendent, West Seneca Central School District. “The school year can't start soon enough."

Public school leaders are now finalizing their reopening plans after waiting nearly two months for the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) to offer guidance that never came.

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Matthew Bystrak, superintendent, West Seneca Central School District, in a Zoom interview.

Superintendent Bystrak says he plans to bring West Seneca students back for five-day, in-person learning.

“We’re preparing our facilities — we've also placed a great deal of emphasize to on what kind of infrastructure we would be needing in terms of different social workers, reading teachers and things like that. There's been quite a bit of planning going on in that regard,” explained Bystrak.

The West Seneca school leader says he's expecting to keep at least three feet of distance in the classrooms, but will look to the Erie County Department of Health for bigger issues like masks.

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Outside the Winchester Elementary School in West Seneca.

“We want to hear from the medical professionals from the county health department — to hear what their perspective is, I will say that — given the fact — it is kind of a divisive issue right now — that's the sort of stuff you want to keep out of schools in terms of divisive issues — you don't like that in schools,” responded Bystrak.

The Erie County Department of Health reached out to superintendents Thursday saying it would look at guidance from the CDC and the American Academy for Pediatrics to assist districts now that the state has no plans to issue guidelines of its own.

In Niagara County, Niagara Falls City School District Superintendent Mark Laurrie says there will be no masks or social distancing mandates, but he is highly recommending face coverings.

First student school bus

“If you ride a bus — the expectation will be that you’re masked — now there's not going to be any limits to how many riders on the bus, but bus riders need to be masked,” responded Laurrie.

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Outside Portville Central School.

In the Portville Central School District in Cattaraugus County Superintendent Thomas Simon tells me his district will follow CDC guidance, which recommends three feet of social distancing and masks for students all day except for lunch.

“The greatest challenge at this point, is going to be lunch, ironically because we want to get all students back — all day long,” Simon noted.

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Past school year lunch schedule at Portville Central Schools.

All three school leaders say if COVID returns to high levels into the school year, they will be ready to make changes to protect students and staff.