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NYSDOH will not issue COVID-19 guidance for schools before start of school year

"I’m frustrated just on behalf of families"
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Posted at 12:48 PM, Aug 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-05 17:34:44-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The New York State Department of Health will not issue COVID-19 guidance to schools before the start of the school year.

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Inside a school classroom.

In a statement NYSDOH Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker referenced the end of the state of emergency that was declared in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason for the change.

Zucker said "school districts are reestablished as the controlling entity for schools," and recommended they follow guidance from the CDC and local health departments.

You can read Zucker's full statement below:

With the end of the state disaster emergency on June 25, 2021, school districts are reestablished as the controlling entity for schools. Schools and school districts should develop plans to open in-person in the fall as safely as possible, and I recommend following guidance from the CDC and local health departments.
- NYSDOH commissioner Zucker

The New York State Education Department issued a statement that said Commissioner of Education Betty A. Rosa has sent a letter asking Zucker "to consider DOH’s statutory responsibilities as the state agency devoted to protecting the public health."

You can read the full statement below:

Notwithstanding the position of the Executive Chamber that the Department of Health (DOH) will not be releasing guidance to assist schools with welcoming students back to safe and healthy learning environments in September, Commissioner of Education Betty A. Rosa has sent a letter asking Commissioner Howard Zucker to consider DOH’s statutory responsibilities as the state agency devoted to protecting the public health.

The Public Health Law provides that the Department of Health is charged with exercising control over and supervising the abatement of nuisances affecting or likely to affect public health as well as supervising and advising any local unit of government and the public health officials thereof within the state in the performance of their official duties. Currently, there is no greater nuisance affecting public health and safety than COVID-19. There is an urgent need for timely advice and supervision flowing from the State Department of Health to local and school officials as they navigate these uncertain times.

The circumstances enveloping the Executive Chamber this week should not prevent the Department of Health from the execution of its responsibilities to the public, as has been promised by the Governor’s office for months.
- NYSED

A spokesperson for the Erie County Department of Heath tells 7 Eyewitness News the following statement has been sent to Erie County school district superintendents and school leaders:

To Erie County school district superintendents and school leaders:

Our department has just learned, as you surely have heard, that NYS and NYSDOH will not be issuing school COVID-19 guidance before the start of the year. We had been operating with the assumption that this guidance was forthcoming.

Given this news, our office of epidemiology and school team are reviewing existing school guidance from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics, along with lessons that our department has learned throughout this pandemic. We understand the extreme time constraints under which you and your colleagues are working, and we will share our next steps with this group as soon as we can.
- ECDOH
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Dr. Gale Burstein Wednesday during a COVID briefing.

“We want the schools to be open. and we are doing everything we can to work with the schools to make that happen,” stated Dr. Gale Burstein Wednesday during a COVID briefing.

School districts have been waiting for weeks after receiving a year of guidance from the state. But not all school leaders say they are disappointed.

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Mark Laurrie, superintendent, Niagara Fall City School District in a Zoom interview.

“I’m pleased that it's not coming because I always have been an advocate of local decision making,” responded Mark Laurrie, superintendent, Niagara Fall City School District.

Laurrie says this is exactly what he was asking for — allowing education leaders to make their own local decisions.

Starpoint Central Schools Superintendent Sean Croft agrees, saying a “one size fits” all approach wasn’t always the best during the pandemic.

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Starpoint Central Schools Superintendent Sean Croft in a Zoom interview.

“To make one mandate for an entire school year, I think could be a mistake. I’d like to see something tied to the numbers in the community where we can fluctuate and flex and adapt to what's going on in our community,” described Croft.

Laurrie tells me school families in Niagara Falls can expect plenty of safety precautions in place for in-person learning.

“Can you say now what a classroom will look like?” Buckley asked.

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Niagara Falls City School students in classroom.

“When you're walking in the school, you should have your mask on. When you're at your desk, so to speak, then it's up to you — strongly urge — strongly recommended that you keep the mask on,” replied Laurrie.

Laurrie says there will be no mask or social distancing mandates, however he says students riding buses should be masked.

“Let’s be wise — let’s be sensible. We’ll continue to have isolation rooms. If you do not feel well - stay home,” declared Laurrie.

But it will be a little different at the West Buffalo Charter School on the city’s West Side.

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Outside West Buffalo Charter School.

“We’ll have students spaced out three feet apart, where last year is was six, but we will go with the three feet and we will be requiring masks for staff and students regardless of vaccination status,” explained Andrea Todoro, school leader.

Todoro tells me she's not disappointed that there's no state guidance.

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Inside West Buffalo Charter School.

“I’m not frustrated with the state health department — I’m frustrated just on behalf of families that have been asking and wondering what's going on but it's not directed at the state health department,” Todoro noted.

A spokesperson for the Williamsville Central School District provided the following statement:

The District was informed last night that the New York State Department of Health will not be providing health and safety guidance for schools operating during the COVID-19 pandemic for the 2021-2022 academic year. We will continue to plan and prepare for the upcoming school year using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools and the American Academy of Pediatrics COVID-19 Guidance for Safe Schools as a basis for creating an educational environment that is as healthy and safe as possible for all of our students and faculty and staff.
- Williamsville CSD