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Parents want kids back in school full-time, but districts are at a standstill

“I’m a little frustrated"
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Posted at 6:05 PM, Mar 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-23 18:10:44-04

The waiting continues for schools, parents and students — wondering when and if the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) will ease classroom social distancing so children can return five days a week to classrooms.

“We’re not going to stand in the way of schools being able to make that decision,” stated Dan Stapleton, public health director, Niagara County.

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Dan Stapleton, public health director, Niagara County, in Zoom interview.

Last Friday, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued new school guidance recommending schools could distance students at three-feet distance, not six-feet, as long as they are all masked.

Director Stapleton says the county will allow school districts to safely return to five day a week, in-person learning, once the state health department gives the green light.

“It’s a superintendents decision. It’s not my decision once they feel they can safely reopen schools,” Stapleton explained.

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

“We are anxiously awaiting to hear from the state health department,” declared Mark Laurrie, superintendent, Niagara Falls City School District.

Laurrie tells 7 Eyewitness News he is in a “holding pattern” until the state health department rolls back the social distancing rule in classrooms from six to three feet.

“Does it come down to liability — as a pure liability issue for the district?," Buckley asked.

“In order to go against what is currently in place — I would be putting the district at risk,” replied Laurrie.

The liability issue is also a topic of conversation in Erie County. During Tuesday’s COVID briefing, County Executive Mark Poloncarz says it is a real concern for school districts.

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Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz during Tuesday's news conference.

“If the schools go before New York State — they're putting themselves at risk such that their insurance will no longer cover them in case there is an illness or God forsake a death as a result of what happens in the school,” Poloncarz explained.

Right now in Erie County, the community transmission rate is more than 200-cases for a seven day period. double the new CDC guidelines for distancing in the middle and high school levels.

The county health commissioner also says they are seeing spread in private schools using the three feet distance rule.

But some parents say it's time for their children to be back in school five days a week.

“We should have that right to decide whether our children should go back to school or not,” remarked Cynthia Dietrich, parent.

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Cynthia Dietrich, parent, in a Zoom interview.

Dietrich has two children at the Charter School for Applied Technologies (CSAT) in Buffalo.

“Are you frustrated right now that there isn't five day a week learning?," questioned Buckley.

“I’m a little frustrated — I know it's not the school's fault, but both of my children want back into school full time. It's much easier for them and it's just normalcy for them,” Dietrich responded.

“What is their big struggle?," asked Buckley.

“They have no motivation when they"re home — they don't want to do their school work — they're not motivated,” answered Dietrich.

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Inside a school classroom at six feet of distance.

The state health department says it is continuing its review of the CDC guidance. During a state conference call news briefing Monday, it was directly addressed.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said the department is working “expeditiously” as it continues to review the CDC guidance.

The governor’s legal counsel and advisor also responded to the questions about changes.

“State guidance right now would say that local districts could do less than 6 feet provided that physical barriers were in place between students. So right now, the minimum state guidance does not comport with the guidance the CDC has issued," stated Beth Garvey.