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Union claims Orleans Niagara BOCES reopen plan is not protecting students & teachers

“I believe we are in compliance"
Posted at 6:11 PM, Sep 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-17 18:11:15-04

SANBORN, NY (WKBW) — Members of the state teachers union have filed a complaint against the Orleans Niagara BOCES saying the reopening plan is not keeping students and teachers safe at some of its teaching sites.

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Orleans Niagara BOCES in Sanborn.

7 Eyewitness News received a copy of the complaint filed by the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) Thursday to the New York State Department of Labor.

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NYSUT's complaint.

The union says there is “widespread non-compliance” in the Orleans Niagara BOCES’s reopening plan.

Thursday, we visited one of the buildings and found students in a security and law enforcement class at the Niagara Career and Technical Education Center in Sanborn, were seated six feet apart wearing face masks.

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Students in a classroom at the Niagara Career and Technical Education Center.

The union is crying foul over the reopening plan saying students are not being protected against COVID.

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Deborah Hillburn, president, NYSUT Orleans Niagara BOCES.

“Our teachers do want to be here. It is not a concern. We want to be here. We just want to be here as safe as possible,” declared Deborah Hillburn, president, NYSUT Orleans Niagara BOCES.

The union's complaint accuses the Orleans Niagara BOCES states "the recognized hazards range from improper physical distancing of students and staff, lack of and/or improper face coverings, failure to clean and disinfect high touch areas, the failure to conduct mandatory screenings and PPE shortages, to name just a few."

“There's been no change in the student population coming in to accommodate the safety needs that need to be taken care of — in terms of spacing and social distancing,” Hillburn stated.

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Niagara Career and Technical Education Center.

We took the union complaints directly to the superintendent, who met us at the Niagara Career and Technical Education Center.

Dr. Clark Goshall is denying the union’s claims.

“I believe we are in compliance,” Godshall explained.

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Dr. Clark Godshall, superintendent, Orleans Niagara BOCES.

Godshall oversees the Orleans Niagara BOCES district that stretches across 13-school districts, the third largest career and tech center in the state.

“I think people are somewhat upset that we were open full time with 13 different schedules — we had to be open,” Godshall responded.

The union leader says she's had complaints from teachers at the Niagara Career and Technical Education Center, the Orleans Career and Technical Center and the Roy-Hart Site and the North Tonawanda Learning Center for special education.

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North Tonawanda Learning denter for special education.

“Our special ed students at those sites are students that really have a hard time staying put. In our opinion, these are the kids that should have been given more square footage, so they could be safe from each other because they are medically at risk,” Hillburn said.

The union also claims teachers were warned of limits of PPE, but the superintendent says they have plenty.

“I’m just amazed at the false information. We’ve spent over $30,000 on PPE,” remarked Godshall.

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Orleans Niagara BOCES PPE on a table where students enter building.

Godshall said what they have not been able to purchase is Clorox brand wipes, but he said they are using another brand.

But the leader did admit that his BOCES district is low on gowns used for the nursing program at some of his sites.

“A couple of buildings are down to five or six gowns and we’re going to go out and immediately buy those,” Godshall said.

There are camera temperature checks set up inside the entrance to the career tech building where about 1,710 students enter.

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“We have isolation rooms — we have RN’s ‘at all of our sites,” Godshall noted.

The union leader said they were left out of the full planning of the reopening plan.

“We only received an email asking for our input to me that is not engagement,” Hillburn explained.

But the superintendent said he would be happy to meet with members.

"I’ll drive down. I’ll meet with whoever. I have ample administration staff that can respond and we’ve got a ton of equipment,” Godshall responded.

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The superintendent says he has more than 700-staffers and has not received a "single complaint."

But the union leader said she has been conducting a membership vote of “no confidence” of the superintendent.

Hillburn said as of Thursday 87-percent have "no-confidence" in his leadership.

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NYSUT said the Department of Labor now has 48 hours to respond to the complaint and hopes it would force BOCES to comply with the reopening plan they originally submitted to the state.