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Judge moves toward 3-foot social distancing in school reopening lawsuit

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Mike Desmond / WBFO News
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WNY Students First protesters rally outside the Rath Building for schools to reopen in March.

Local parents who went to court Tuesday to force their school districts to return to in-class learning five days a week have been put on hold.

State Supreme Court Judge Emilio Colaiacovo has denied the request for immediate action to compel the districts to fully reopen, but will be revisiting the case in the coming days.

Colaiacovo asked state officials to explain why New York schools are still requesting six-foot social-distancing measures among students while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month modified the practice to three feet. The judge also wanted two of the four districts involved in the suit -- Orchard Park and Williamsville -- to present their full reopening plans to him next week.   

Both districts currently hold hybrid classes, with a few days in the building and the rest at home.

After lawyers for the Williamsville School District reported to Colaiacovo Tuesday that the district has a plan for re-opening five days a week which no one has seen, and then lawyers for Orchard Park schools told him they didn’t know if their district had a plan, the judge called for an immediate response.

With the school year drawing to a close, the judge told state lawyers he wants a decision in a week about shifting to student desks three feet apart, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allows, and wants court hearings in three weeks on whether he should order the new rules enforced quickly. He placed particular stress on a Williamsville survey of students in the district showing rising depression from being at home.

Parents in both districts are represented by lawyer Paul Cambria, who said he understands the stress of home schooling because his son is in that group.

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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