Parents from Williamsville, Orchard Park appear in court in lawsuit to resume five-day per week in-person learning

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(WIVB) – Some parents are suing local school districts to open for in-person learning five days a week- but there’s also been a record number of COVID-19 cases in schools in Erie County.

In the last week, there were 504 cases of COVID-19 in Erie County schools – a new record and a 65 percent increase from the week before.

“The epidemiology of COVID-19 has changed in our community,” said Dr. Gale Burstein, Erie County Health Commissioner. “We’re seeing many more cases in young people and we’re seeing more transmission in young people too.”

Dr. Gale Burstein says this spike in cases at schools comes from many factors, including spreading at home and within youth sports.

“We’re seeing an increase, a number of kids under the age of 20 every week that are testing positive, so that is a concern,” she added. “And as the county executive mentioned, this is really reflective of what we’re seeing in the schools.”

As cases inside school buildings are going up, some parents are fighting to get their kids back in the classroom five days a week.

Two separate cases were argued in State Supreme Court Tuesday. Parents from Williamsville and Orchard Park are suing the districts, their boards of education and Albany. They want their students to have the option of in-person learning five days a week.

“As far as we’re concerned, the educational law requires instruction to be given by competent teachers and that’s what we want to have happen,” said Paul Cambria, the attorney representing the parents in these two cases.

Cambria says the issue comes down to the teachers not interacting with the students when they’re not inside the classroom, forcing the students to teach themselves.

“The bottom line is the kids need to be taught by teachers,” Cambria said. “They can’t just be sent to a room and say ‘ok learn.’ it doesn’t work that way.”

Under state health department guidelines, desks must be spaced six feet apart. During the hearing, representatives from the districts say until the space is reduced, they don’t have enough room to bring everyone back full time.

Those two lawsuits will be back in court by the end of this month for a preliminary injunction hearing. The districts and state must have their plans in place at that time.

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