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Niagara County leaders will greenlight school districts to fully reopen 'if state says it's our call'

First student school bus
Posted at 2:21 PM, Mar 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-22 14:22:48-04

LOCKPORT, N.Y. (WKBW) — Niagara County leaders say they're waiting for clarification from New York State on who has the final call to allow students to return to the classroom.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently updated its guidance, calling for three feet of distance between students in a classroom setting rather than six feet, as long as universal masking was enforced.

On Monday, Niagara County Legislature Chairman Becky Wydysh and Niagara County Public Health Director Daniel Stapleton released statements in support of allowing school districts in the county to fully return students to the classroom if they can meet the new CDC guidance. Stapleton and Wydysh say it's unclear to them whether local health departments have the ability to make that decision in New York State.

7 Eyewitness News spoke to parents and school administrators last week about the new guidance. Superintendent Adam Stoltman of Alden Central School District indicated his district was already prepared to bring 100% of students who are interested back to in-person learning under the three feet model, but that the district was awaiting the state's green light.

“I believe on February 25th that Dr. Zucker indicated that in the next 48 to 72 hours we would be hearing something and here were March 19th and we have yet to hear anything,” Stoltman stated.

Similarly, Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein indicated early last week that the county relies on the CDC and New York State for its guidelines.

“We’ve told the schools that our county attorney has advised us that local health departments in New York State are not allowed to develop policies for the schools,” Burstein said.

On Monday, Chairman Wydysh said in a statement she had requested clarification from the state on Friday and was awaiting an answer.

". . . If we can confirm that the decision to adopt the new CDC guidelines is our call, then we are going to greenlight school districts to move forward to reopen,” Wydysh said in a statement.