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Buffalo Public Schools trying to avoid remote learning, but preparing for the worst

Kriner Cash discusses COVID-19 response
Buffalo Public Schools
Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash speaks about the district's COVID-19 response during a town hall-style meeting Dec. 2, 2021.

Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash says he doesn't want the drumbeat of 49 new COVID-19 cases a day in the school system to force kids back to remote learning, but he's preparing with thousands more vaccinations and laptops, just in case.

The superintendent spoke in a town hall-style meeting Thursday night at East High School about his plans for responding to the region’s ongoing fourth wave of the pandemic.

Cash's principal weapon is 10,000 vaccinations that Gov. Kathy Hochul is shipping in, with the promise of more if needed. The plan is to distribute the shots in the city's network of community schools, which are open nights and weekends.

“She and her team called me late Tuesday night, and by Wednesday morning, we were already working on logistics to get 10,000 vaccines now coming to the Buffalo Public Schools so that we can vaccinate our students and families inside our community schools,” Cash said.

The idea, Cash said, is to overcome hesitation in minority communities.

“We weren't getting penetration into Black and Brown and our New American population, not nearly to the degree that is needed among our majority of the student population,” he said. “There's some hesitation, we all know.”

However, BPS does seem to already be doing well getting its own employees vaccinated. Only about 6% of district teachers and staff report being unvaccinated, according to data provided by Cash.

Still, BPS is preparing for the possibility of shutting down schools again. Cash told the meeting that the district has distributed thousands of new portable computers to students.

“If you got to go home, we're going to be prepared to go home,” he said. “We don't want to go home. We want our kids in school. They need to be here in school, but it depends on the safety and the issues that emerge in the weeks ahead. The weeks ahead are going to be very, very pivotal, we think, for all of us.”

Still trying to run a school system in the middle of a pandemic, Cash told the meeting there has been progress in getting enough school bus drivers to get kids home on time. That includes an upcoming shift of schedules in many schools to make better use of what buses the district has. The superintendent said it's the equivalent of adding as many as 50 buses.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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