NIAGARA FALLS, NY (WKBWO — Some school districts across the region are now in a scramble to see how and when they can begin to bring back more students for five-day a week, in-person learning.
But it’s not a quick flip of the switch.
“Absolutely not. There’s some communication that has to happen — first with the board of education, then a formal public hearing,” declared Mark Laurrie, superintendent, Niagara Falls City School District.
Students at the Cataract Elementary School in Niagara Falls returned from Easter break Monday for their two-days a week of in-person learning.
But Superintendent Laurrie says his district has a plan in the works to return these students back to school five-days a week.
Laurrie says he's hoping that can happen in two weeks.
“Our goal is April 26th — to engage our elementary school students back to school — now it's most important that our elementary students get back. They're the ones that need it the most — they're the ones that I think have had the most difficulty being out of school,” remarked Laurrie.
Friday the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) changed its distancing guidelines for students in classrooms from six feet apart to three feet.
But higher transmission rates in counties will put limits on middle-schoolers and higher-schoolers returning to the classroom five days a week.
“I’m hoping the next lobby can be about raising the threshold for the 7 to 12 students,” explained Laurrie.
The Covid transmission rates must be less than 100 per one-thousand people.
Lewiston-Porter Central Schools Superintendent Paul Casseri says he's also struggling with that issue.
“I am advocating, waiting the full two weeks to see how this plays out,” Casseri explained. “I think we should have a good gage.”
Over the past two weeks, during the district's spring break, Casseria says they've reconfigured classrooms in grades K-through 5th and plan to fully reopen April 26th.
“So that what we did over spring break is we repopulated all of our classrooms with desks three feet, so tomorrow when the kids come back in the hybrid model, which we will still be in, there will be significantly more desks in the rooms,” Casseri said. “We want to bring kids back. We have a good plan in place.”
April 26th is also the target date to reopen full, five-day a week learning for elementary students in the Williamsville Central School District.
In a video message, acting Superintendent Dr. John McKenna released an update Monday talking about the district's “Plan to Pivot”.
But no there's no set return date for Williamsville middle and high school students with the higher Erie County transmission rates.
However, in other districts, like the Salamanca City Central School District, Superintendent Robert Breidenstein says his students returned to five-day a week in-person learning Monday.
“We’ll follow the three-foot distance with barriers. We are commandeering some additional, instruction spaces that we have in our district,” Breidentstein replied. “Students will be required to wear masks.”
The Hamburg Central School District is also looking for a full return of students April 26th. Frontier Central School District stated it plans to reopen next Monday, April 19th.
A parent organization that has been fighting for schools to fully reopen across the region is also reacting to the change in the state's school safety guidelines.
WNY Students First issued a written statement Monday afternoon. Here is a partial excerpt from the statement:
"WNY Students First is pleased to see that the arbitrary six foot social distancing guideline, which prevented many schools in New York State from reopening fully, was reduced to three feet. Science never supported this “health” guideline as it did less to slow transmission than it did harm to students. This change should allow all elementary schools in New York State to reopen fully this spring at any level of community transmission."
"However, WNY Students First remains concerned that the ECDOH, based on the statement that it issued regarding the updated NYSDOH school guidance, will continue to make it difficult for elementary schools in Erie County to reopen fully this spring by continuing to quarantine those children that are within six feet of an infectious student for more than ten minutes. This outdated policy runs counter to the data from the CDC that shows that transmission rates in schools are extremely low at three feet of social distancing when masks are used."
"WNY Students First is extremely disappointed that the NYSDOH social distancing guidelines for middle schools and high schools are tied to community transmission rates. At just 100 new cases per 100,000 people over 7 days, middle schools and high schools will need to either move back to six feet of social distancing or cohort, according to the new guidance. Since many schools, particularly high schools, are unable to cohort, this guideline will effectively force many secondary schools in New York State to remain in hybrid mode."
WNY Students First