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Judge orders New York Department of Health to revisit social distancing guidelines for schools

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Posted at 6:10 PM, Apr 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-27 18:10:27-04

ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. (WKBW) — Supreme Court Judge Emilio Colaiacovo has ordered the New York State Department of Health to revisit its school social distancing guidelines by Friday.

Parents are suing both the Orchard Park and Williamsville School Districts to return to school in person full time in Judge Colaiavcovo's court.

Both school districts said they can not accommodate all students with six feet of social distance, but can with three.

The New York State Department of Health guidance says all Erie County middle and high schools must abide by six feet of social distance because the county has a high COVID transmission rate which is more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents.

Friday, the Williamsville Central School District appeared in court where Judge Colaiacovo said he would issue a written decision on both the Williamsville and Orchard Park cases after hearing arguments in the Orchard Park suit Tuesday.

A study by Oxford University, evidence submitted by representatives for the parents in both lawsuits, is at the heart of the debate on whether children can safely return to school in person, five days a week.

Judge Colaiacovo said Oxford University studied about 200 school districts in Massachusetts over 16 weeks, concluding there is no difference between three and six feet of social distancing when it comes to the transmission of COVID-19 in schools, provided students wear masks.

After hearing arguments Tuesday, Judge Colaiacovo said he will make a decision on if students will be able to return to the classroom with three feet of social distancing in both the Orchard Park and Williamsville districts sometime this week. He ordered the department of health revisit it's social distancing guidelines by Friday.

7 Eyewitness News asked the Department of Health if it would like to comment on Judge Colaiacovo's order to revisit guidelines. A representative for the Health Department the following excerpt from page 8 of their school guidance, saying it is consistent with the recommendation of the CDC:

"In counties with high risk of transmission, elementary schools can maintain physical distancing of at least three feet between students in classrooms and cohorting is recommended when possible. However, in middle and high schools three feet between students in classrooms is recommended only when schools can use cohorting. When schools cannot maintain cohorting, middle and high schools must maintain physical distancing of at least six feet between students in classrooms."

Judge Colaiacovo pointed out Friday the World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics recommend three feet of social distance in schools.

Both districts are not commenting on the litigation.