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“Safely Back to School”: Regent leader with advice for school families

“Parents, the public — is fearful, so am I"
Posted at 6:44 PM, Jul 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-28 09:07:22-04

“Parents, the public — is fearful, so am I,” said Dr. Catherine Collins, Regent representative for Western New York.

School families across Western New York are filled with uncertainty as school districts map out reopen plans. But what will parents and students need to know to head “safely back to school”.

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Dr. Catherine Collins, Western New York Regent, spoke with us from her north Buffalo home.

While COVID cases have dropped sharply in the Western New York region since the start of the pandemic in March, Collins, of Buffalo, said she knows school families are filled with anxiety and fear as districts plan to reopen in this fall.

“Our babies that we are sending to school — parents have to make that decision,” Collins remarked.

Collins helped draft the 145-page document to guide 700-school districts statewide.

“Our guidance is exactly what it is — it's guidance. We want you to be six feet apart, we want you in your mask. How you accomplish that? We leave that up to you,” Collins explained.

Collins says it will be up to educators on the front lines to “enforce” the rules. But she says they can't make it work without parents.

“The parents will make a decision whether I’m going to allow my kid to go into that environment or if I’m going to keep my child home,” Collins responded.

Collins says reopen plans are not a one size fits all approach because each school building is unique and so are the students, especially special needs students.

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Inside a school building.

“You have to keep in mind not all the children there are children that can walk in the door. We have special children and we have to be very careful about those kids,” replied Collins.

Collins is a former school nurse. But she says other school staffers will have to assist when it comes to the monitoring students during COVID

“It’s going to be very difficult. Some schools share one nurse and there may be three schools sharing a nurse,” described Collins.

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Inside a school nursing office.

Collins agrees that we will all be taking a collective breathe if children return to classrooms this fall.

“I’m concerned for the teachers,” Collins remarked.

Collins noted teachers will have to have that quote “third eye” to keep a close watch on how students behave under the COVID measures.

“If you're going to send them to school, please make sure that you understand what the guidelines are and please understand that they're your children — you make the decision on where you want to send them,” Collins said. “Parents are really going to have to spend time talking to their children — especially those who have to take public transportation.”

Collins also had a strong message for school families who rely on public transportation, like many of the 33,000 Buffalo Public School children.

“When you're out there on a bus, and someone gets on and maybe don't adhere to the requirements of staying six feet apart, you get up and move,” explained Collins

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Regent Dr. Catherine Collins says wearing a mask will be a must if students go back to school.

But her number one message to school families — wash your hands and put on a face mask. “That’s my message,” declared Collins.