WNY reaction on new CDC recommendations for in-person learning

"We're still on pins and needles"
Posted at 6:13 PM, Mar 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-19 19:09:31-04

The Center for Disease Control announced Fridayit was recommending students stay three feet apart in a classroom, instead of six feet, but must keep a mask on during in-person learning.

“We're excited to hear the CDC has adjusted their guidance as far as in-person instruction goes for school districts,” declared Adam Stoltman, superintendent, Alden Central School District.

Superintendent Stoltman says they've been working for the last three weeks on a plan to switch classrooms from six-feet to three-feet apart.

Adam Stoltman, superintendent, Alden Central School District.

“We’re ready to go — we can bring all of our students that are interested 100-percent in person learning,” Stoltman explained.

But districts cannot make any changes unless the New York State Health Department (NYSDOH) gives them the green light.

“I believe on February 25th that Dr. Zucker indicated that in the next 48 to 72 hours we would be hearing something and here were March 19th and we have yet to hear anything,” Stoltman stated.

Desks set up inside the Alden cafeteria to keep students apart.

The CDC is now recommending that three feet spacing in the middle and high schools can only happen if there is not a high level of community spread.

The average positivity rate in the entire Western New York region Thursday was 2.1 percent.

"It’s unfortunate and disheartening that they're tying the guidance to community transmission,” remarked

Tarja Parssinen and Amy Leach are parents in the Clarence Central School District in a Zoom interview Friday.

Parssinen and Amy Leach are parents in the Clarence Central School District.

“We’re still waiting. We're still on pins and needles to figure out what happens, especially for our kids mental health,” said Leach.

Their group has been pushing hard for full five-day a week in person learning.

Both parents say they are excited the CDC is offering this new guidance, but say it's not enough to quickly return students to schools full-time.

Tarja Parssinen, parent, WNY Students First.

“Nothing has really changed yet. We have to keep up the pressure,” Passinen stated.

“As much as we are all excited about this, I still feel that we are at a standstill,” Leach said.

The organization has repeatedly called on the Erie County Health Department to make change and allow students back in classrooms.

Amy Leach, Clarence school parent.

“I know you keep referring to Erie County — but they are telling us otherwise,” Buckley questioned.

“I’m glad you brought that up because that's what we had been believing as well, but it's interesting to see other counties act separately and independently,” Parssinen replied.

Earlier this week, Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said the county relies on the CDC and state for the guidelines.

Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein during news briefing.

“We’ve told the schools that our county attorney has advised us that local health departments in New York State are not allowed to develop policies for the schools,” Burstein stated.

The county issued this statement late Friday afternoon in response to the new recommendations:

“School districts and schools are responsible for policies and practices that align with that guidance. NYSED and the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) are the agencies with the authority to make changes to that guidance.

Using the CDC metrics for low, moderate, substantial or high transmission, Erie County currently falls within the high transmission category (~190 new confirmed COVID-19 cases per 100,000 persons in the past 7 days). If New York State decides that schools can implement the updated CDC recommendations, middle schools and high schools in areas of high transmission that cannot cohort students should still follow the six-foot-distance guidance in classrooms.”

Erie County Department of Health

NYSDOH responded to our request for comment stating “they are reviewing the new CDC guidance.”

The Buffalo Public School District announced that it will stay with the six foot rule in their school buildings.

“Today the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced updated guidance to reduce the required physical distance rule from six feet to three feet in schools and classrooms. In speaking with ECDOH, our Medical Director, Board and staff, BPS will be strictly adhering to wearing facial masks at all times, 6 feet social distancing in our school buildings, and retaining any barriers that are already in place until further notice."

Dr. Kriner Cash Superintendent of Schools

The New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) also responding to the changes from the CDC. The following statement was issued by NYSUT's President Andy Pallota:

“Any educator will tell you the best way for students to learn is to be in person in the classroom. In a number of schools around New York, that has been done safely and successfully since September. For places that have older buildings, spacing limitations or other circumstances that make COVID-19 mitigation strategies challenging, decisions on how to bring students back to the classroom must be driven by science, not politics.

“Abrupt changes can undermine public trust and clarity, and we would like to review in greater detail the science behind the CDC’s latest social distancing guidance. Yet it is clear social distancing is only one element of a nuanced and multifaced approach to COVID-19 mitigation in schools. Universal mask wearing, cleaning, proper ventilation, contact tracing, COVID-19 testing and getting the vaccine to everyone who wants one are all still important safety measures for schools. If anything, these other factors — especially the need for robust COVID-19 testing in schools — become more important as social distancing guidance changes.

“When it comes to changing local reopening plans, districts must continue to work with educators and parents to maintain confidence in the safety of their buildings. Those decisions must be based on the circumstances within each school and must carefully consider all aspects of a responsible COVID-19 mitigation strategy. As public health officials have rightly cautioned, in the face of new variants and a race to make vaccinations widely available, this is not the time to let down our guard.”

NYSUT President Andy Pallotta