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Buffalo Public School children to be in class Monday, under test-to-stay policy

Three masked young school children and their masked teacher work at a desk.
Buffalo Schools

Buffalo Public school kids will be in their classrooms Monday, a normal return from the holidays in a time when nothing is normal.

The school system had a plan ready if the surging COVID numbers made return to virtual a necessity. Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash has said he didn't want that and the district said it will be the usual mid-winter return with all sorts of safety precautions for the tens of thousands of students and the thousands of staff.

School Board President Louis Petrucci agreed with the decision.

"It wasn't one that we entered into lightly. There was a lot of consultation, with both our partners at the state and the county, our parent groups and the Board of Education," Petrucci said. "We wanted to make sure that we were all onboard with this, because it's impactful either way. If you close schools, that has a very real impact on learning and on our families. But we also want to make sure that our kids are in as safe a place as possible."

Central to a return to school is lots and lots of testing of students and staff. Called test-to-stay, it's seen as essential to winnowing out those those who have to quarantine from who can stay in the building. Albany is shipping in thousands and thousands of quick test kits to help do this.

Michael Cornell is Hamburg superintendent of schools and president of the Erie-Niagara Schools Superintendent Association. In that post, he represents superintendents across the two counties. Cornell was on a conference call with Gov. Kathy Hochul and 500 other superintendents Tuesday and heard her promise of perhaps 37 million tests.

He said test-to-stay is a proven way to go, as shown in a pilot program on Grand Island.

"No surprise it works," Cornell said. "We were really testing something on a very small scale that had worked extremely well on an very large scale across the State of Massachusetts, really well. So we're ready to roll with test-to-stay and it really is going to do exactly what we need, which is to make sure that every child that is healthy and well is in school."

Cornell also agreed with Gov. Kathy Hochul, who is pushing to keep kids in class4.

"Schools are safe. COVID-19 does not spread readily in a school setting. We have seen that proven locally, statewide, nationally and internationally," he said. "That fact is no longer in doubt. School is the safest place for a young person to be in the COVID era."

"The spread that we see is a spillover from the community into our buildings," said Petrucci. "And that isn't just for the Omicron, that's for other things, as well. What happens in the community tends to end up in our buildings. We need parents and community members to help us, as well. We need parents to consent to testing. We need parents to, if they have the opportunity, to have their children vaccinated. That will help as well."

Petrucci said he believes parents want their children back in the classroom, as well.

"A single Mom with two kids who is working multiple jobs to keep her roof above your head and you're also, at the same time, trying to learn various educational platforms and be an instructor for your child and it was extremely challenging," he said. "So, yeah, many of those parents want to have their kids back in class. They see the value of having their kids in class."

The district also learned painfully last year that many families simply didn't have the computer connectivity at home for their virtual classes, despite the district's efforts to get everyone online.

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.