BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — Thousands of students across Western New York will return to school over the next few weeks in what has been a challenging time for everyone involved.
That’s why 7 Eyewitness News senior reporter, Eileen Buckley, assembled some superintendents for a virtual roundtable — to have a conversation focused on you about what it will take to welcome students and teachers back to class safely.
Hamburg Central Schools Superintendent Michael Cornell, who also serves as president of the Erie-Niagara Superintendents Association, Alden Central Schools Superintendent Adam Stoltman and Williamsville Schools Superintendent Darren Brown-Hall joined the conversation.
“We’ve really done a solid job of telling our communities and the local public health officials — schools are safe,” declared Stoltman.
Superintendents have been on a pandemic roller coaster ride preparing for the reopening of a new school year as they were caught in political upheaval.
First the state health department said it would not issue new guidance — leaving it up to districts and schools, but the Erie County Health Department stepped in last week to provide new guidance at the local level.
“Do you feel like you're finally being included in this process?” Buckley asked.
“I think we feel included. I think we feel heard. I think we've been able to balance a public health imperatives that the county has against the operation realities of running real schools — real employees and real kids and dealing with parents who have real things on their minds,” responded Michael Cornell.
“It is a vast difference than what we experienced last year when we were told to shut schools down, but we appreciate the growth in the partnership and the real listening to superintendents and individuals who are running the school districts,” replied Darren Brown-Hall.
The goal is to return students to five-day a week, in-school learning for the full 180-days of the school year.
There is a mask mandate handed down by both Erie County and Governor Kathy Hochul.
The Erie County guidance also issued new quarantine rules for students.
It now calls for unvaccinated students within three feet of an unvaccinated teacher within six feet from a positive case for up to 15-minutes or more would need to be quarantine for ten days.
“Is it too restrictive or again given the transmission rate and this very highly contagious variant?” Buckley questioned.
“Here in Alden — we don't foresee a problem with the quarantining — the contact tracing in our classrooms. We've got plenty of space between our seats. The guidance actually — the way it is written right now is favorable,” remarked Stoltman.
“With moving the six feet to three feet — for the close contact definition — I think we'll see less quarantining of students — the number will be reduced, so I think that is very fair and very realistic in our school districts to keep as many students in the school building, in front of their teacher with education in person,” explained Brown-Hall.
“Our schools are generally set up so that you're three or so feet away from the other person, so the circumstances — where somebody would be inside of three feet from somebody for 15 minutes or more — those circumstances are going to be very few and far between,” stated Cornell.