BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — School districts have been making strides in turning the corner during the Covid crisis, but the struggle to return to five-days a week of in-person learning continues.
“We’re pretty close. We’re watching the numbers,” declared Michael Cornell, superintendent, Hamburg Central School District.
Cornell says he is watching daily Covid transmission rates that remain a little over 100-cases in Erie County, preventing more students from being in the classroom five days a week.
“We’re waiting to hit 99 cases or lower because that is the point at which the New York State Department of Health guidance says that we can return our middle school and high school students to learning at three feet, in a mask,” Cornell explained.
Cornell serves as president of the Erie Niagara Superintendents Association. He says his district and other school districts hope to reopen to full in-person learning possibly by next week.
Cornell says teachers across Western New York are “eager” to get students back in the classroom.
“Infection in school is very, very rare and we feel really confident in the fact that community transmission continues to drop,” remarked Cornell.
In the Buffalo Public School District, more students were able to return this week to the classroom for the first time in a hybrid model.
About 60-percent of students are back in classrooms, but still about 40-percent are remains in all remote learning.
“We have so many parents still choosing to keep their children at home — in that full remote,” explained Larry Scott, board member, Buffalo Board of Education.
More @Buffalo_Schools were allowed to return for a couple of days a week of in-person learning this week, but school districts in WNY continue facing challenges for full, five-day a week learning. More tonight @ 5 & 6 @WKBW pic.twitter.com/dOZCxYehQB— eileen buckley (@eileenwkbw) May 12, 2021
Scott says students in 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grades are returning this week for some in-school learning.
But now Scott questions if students would be able to return to five-day a week learning before the school year ends.
"In some of our classrooms we probably still could maintain up to six feet of distancing and have students more days — more than the two days, so I’m going to be further inquiring about that,” Scott stated.
“The schools will have their rules about social distancing,” commented Dr. Joseph Chow, president, WNY Immediate Care. “The schools, I have no doubt, will ready and prepared.”
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“Not only protect patients themselves from getting Covid — that's one, but you're also protecting your family and even broader, you're protecting the community,” Chow explained.
Dr. Chow and other area physicians issued a letter to student athletics because of an outbreak of cases caused by high-risk sports.
The letter asks them to be extra careful to protect themselves and others from the spread of Covid.
“Try to wear your mask, certainly as frequently as possible, if you're on the side line, put your mask on — if you're out in the field try to wear your mask at all times if possible,” said Chow. “If you aren’t feeling well don’t go to the sports.”
Dr. Chow reminding student athletes that even if one person on a team gets Covid, close contacts would need to be quarantined.
“Everybody has that personal responsibility not only to the themselves, but their team,” Chow noted.
Schools are also facing challenges of busing. It’s a major issue for the Buffalo schools.
“What really I think is most unique and most challenging is our transportation system. Most of our students rely on bus transportation to get to and from school and with our school choice model — we have students that are bused all the way across the city,” Scott explained.
Hamburg Superintendent Cornell said it is possible his school district could open fully sometime next week, but he’s not ready to commit.
“We’re still in the process of putting the final touches on our plan to make sure that it's truly possible before we make an announcement,” Cornell said.
“What are you doing different in your district to prepare for that?," asked Buckley.
“We spent about a $100,000 in February on individual desks and chairs in anticipation of needing them in places we don't normally use them, so we feel pretty well prepared,” replied Cornell.
Cornell issued a letter Wednesday afternoon to school families to officially announce "middle school and high school students in Cohorts A - C will return to in-person Monday through Friday learning on Thursday, May 20."