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Test to Stay goes to school in Erie County

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Michael Cornell, Hamburg School Superintendent and President of the Buffalo Niagara Superintendents Association

Beginning Monday, school districts throughout Erie County will roll out Test to Stay, a COVID policy aimed at keeping kids in school. County health leaders agree it’s important to keep children in classroom settings. The president of the Erie Niagara School Superintendents Association, meanwhile, says local schools were already prepared to go before getting the county’s guidance Friday.

The Erie County Health Department presented its Test to Stay plan to more than 150 school superintendents and administrators in a virtual meeting Friday, January 7.

The plan is designed to allow children, who would otherwise be subject to quarantine following an in-school COVID exposure, to continue attending classes as long as they remain symptom free.

“The Test to Stay program has many moving pieces, and schools will have substantial day-to-day responsibility, as they are the ones who are identifying school-based contacts, following the testing protocol, and reporting results to NYSDOH and ECDOH,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein in a prepared statement. “That being said, schools, students and families have shown remarkable resilience this pandemic, and demonstrated the importance of in-school learning. Broadly, they indicated this is a challenge they are willing to accept. Our school team is available as a resource for schools to implement this program safely.”

The county ran Test to Stay as a pilot program last month in the Grand Island Central School District, and it was hailed as a success. Michael Cornell, Hamburg School Superintendent and head of the Erie Niagara School Superintendents Association, says that should come as no surprise.

“Test to Stay has been used successfully right next door in Massachusetts state with just about a million students, K to 12. It's been used really successfully in Massachusetts. It's helped keep probably tens of thousands of healthy students in school instead of suffering through an unnecessary quarantine,” Cornell said. “So, it wasn't really in doubt that the Grand Island pilot would be successful because it's been successful there in Massachusetts. It was successful in Monroe County and Westchester County during the entire month of December.”

Cornell suggests school districts in Erie County were ready to roll out Test to Stay in December, and notes leaders had been pushing for it as far back as late summer.

Keeping children in school, he adds, means more to many than just classes. He says throughout the county, there are young people who depend on the safe environment it provides.

“Whether it's the academic needs, the social, the emotional needs, the mental health needs, the nutritional needs, the physical needs, you know, all of these services that we provide to children, and these experiences we provide to children beyond the academic stuff that we do with them, are so important in the life of the young person,” he said. “Withholding them for any reason, unnecessarily, is beneath us as a society, and it's about time we finally figured out how to keep these healthy kids at school.”

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.