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School districts swaying on being able to remain open as COVID cases climb

"When faculty and staff are out it's a whole different story."
Remote Learning
Posted at 6:50 PM, Jan 10, 2022

CITY OF TONAWANDA & SINCLAIRVILLE, N.Y. (WKBW) — School districts around the country have been struggling to work around rising COVID cases, and the highly transmissible omicron variant.

As positive cases take both students and teachers out of the classroom, it brings into question: how are districts deciding whether to go remote or cancel class all together?

Students in the North Tonawanda School District had classes cancelled, Monday, with Superintendent Woylita citing a bus driver shortage and multiple teachers out with COVID as the reason.

PREVIOUS STORY: North Tonawanda public schools closed Monday because of COVID-19 absences

7 News’ Pheben Kassahun spoke with local districts about what goes into their decisions when in-person learning is not possible, Monday.

It is the COVID tight rope for local school districts, as case numbers climb and more teachers call off sick.

Western New York school districts are balancing on being able to remain open based on the number of adults at school.

"When students are out, they can still tie in remotely, or get some work sent home but when faculty and staff are out it's a whole different story,” Cassadaga Valley Central School District superintendent, Chuck Leichner told Kassahun.

According to the latest case count last reported on December 22, for Cassadaga Valley Central Schools, there were a total of 67 positive cases among teachers, students and staff: 8 were teachers and 51 were students.

"I know a couple of weeks ago, we had over 100 student absences which is a lot for us, when you're looking at a school smaller than 1,000. We have been tracking that. It's been higher than we would like it to be. It's been manageable at this point,” Leichner added.

School officials are working hard to try and revert to remote learning, according to Leichner.
"We don't want to do remote, but if we knew that it would be for just a day or two, we may opt to go remote, just to provide kids with that connection, But it's difficult for families. While, it's easy for us to say we don't have enough people here and we're going to close tomorrow, families then have to react and find childcare and miss work,” the superintendent said.

However, Leichner added a bulk of COVID-related absences are due to contact tracing results.

"If we have staff members who are absent. We have other staff members who can provide coverage there. That works but it's not a long-term solution. Our biggest program has been through our transportation department. If we have a few drivers out, it really impacts our ability to get everyone here on time,” Leichner said.

The same goes for Tonawanda City School District.

Tonawanda City School District superintendent, Dr. Timothy Oldenburg said, We're working with and supporting our families and our staff the best that we can to maintain fully in-person, instructional program, economic school program as well as work environment for our staff."

According to the latest COVID case count reported on January 7, there were a total of 360 positive cases among teachers, students and staff: 46 teachers and 264 students were positive.

Doctor Oldenburg said, “As many districts agree and support in-person learning certainly the best advice for students to not only receive instruction but the myriad for other supports and important engagements that are part of public school setting."

Oldenburg added that if the state were to determine that in-person learning became unsafe, the district is prepared to pivot to remote learning.

To find each school's COVID-19 report card in New York State, click here.