Some WNY parents and Erie County health officials at odds over school reopening debate

Education

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Last week there were 247 COVID-19 cases in schools. It is among the highest it’s been all year, but a parents group notes that it’s still way lower than even one percent of the overall student population.

Tarja Parssinen is a Clarence parent with the same group who rallied at the Rath Building Tuesday.

She feels that county officials are not being honest in saying they have no power to loosen school distancing rules when several other New York counties are spacing at less than 6 feet already and are not being stopped.

“Give the districts freedom to do that. For instants, in the Clarence School District which I am in, we purchased the barriers from the beginning. We could’ve been full-time and in-state compliance in September,” said Parssinen of WNY Students First.

Buffalo Schools parent Bethany Morgan said, “Everybody wants science and studies on how we can keep schools closed or why it’s beneficial that schools close. I am demanding a study on how this is going to affect my child. What are the repercussions one year, five years, 20 years from now, on my child’s mental health.”

But Erie County Health Commissioner Gale Burstein Says last week there were 247 COVID-19 cases in schools and some of them were in schools that have desks only 3 feet apart.

“That is regardless of whether masks are being used or not. These are primarily private schools, not public schools, however, we have seen in the schools where there’s 3 feet social distancing, more of an outbreak either in the classroom or throughout the school,” Burstein told said during a press conference.

Depew Schools observe the 6-foot rule but still had 11 cases last week prompting Depew Middle School to be closed until after Easter break.

Superintendent of the Depew Union Free School District, Jeff Rabey said “Faculty and staff are now being vaccinated at a higher rate and our student bodies are not. There’s also more activity now that the weather is breaking outside. Students are gathering more outside.”

When asked if schools can have students can seat students three apart if there are masks and barriers, a county health official told News 4 the schools are responsible for interpreting the state’s reopening guidance in their own policies.

George Richert is an award-winning reporter who first joined the News 4 team in 1998, later returning in 2018. See more of his work here.

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