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Different Restrictions

O’Rourke: Zone Challenges Specific To School Location

As Erie County enters yellow and orange zones on Friday, Erie-2 Chautauqua Cattaraugus BOCES Superintendent and CEO David O’Rourke said that residents and students who attend Chautauqua County schools will not be affected. Several school districts in the county, meanwhile, have transitioned to remote learning. P-J photos by Dennis Phillips

With parts of Erie County entering a yellow or orange zone on Friday — with schools to follow on Monday — some details are starting to emerge as to how that might affect those who travel to and from Chautauqua County for essential purposes: namely those in education.

The zone regulations, introduced several weeks ago by Gov. Andrew Cuomo requires schools in yellow zones to test 20% of students and staff. Schools in orange zones must close until all on-site students and staff are tested.

David O’Rourke, the Erie-2 Chautauqua Cattaraugus BOCES district superintendent and CEO, told The Post-Journal on Thursday that the zone regulations are limited to the “school buildings or where the student resides.”

“So a student who resides in the town of Evans attend our LoGuidice Educational Center in Fredonia would continue to attend as they would normally,” O’Rourke said. “That’s the same context for faculty and staff. If they reside in Erie County and work in Chautauqua County — Chautauqua County’s numbers are good and their buildings are not under a yellow or orange zone — then they would report normally.”

O’Rourke explained that three BOCES campuses are located in the Erie County orange zone designated on Wednesday.

“We were continuing to test 25% of our in-person population weekly in order to maintain operation,” he said. “We don’t have the testing capacity, though, so we’re moving to fully remote in those locations.”

A lack of testing capabilities will also lead the one P-TECH as well as two other campuses in Holland and North Collins — all located in Erie County’s yellow zone — to go to remote learning until Nov. 30.

“We don’t have testing capacity yet established with the county’s assistance in Erie County,” O’Rourke said. “As soon as we can establish testing capacity, it’s our intention in those yellow zone areas to resume patterns of attendance. If we can get that going, that would require we test 20% of the staff or faculty that would be present on that campus on a given day. If it’s a satellite classroom, we would work with the district. We’ll do all we can to resume face-to-face instruction.”

While Chautauqua County has not, as of Thursday, been named a micro-cluster region with a yellow, orange or red designation, O’Rourke explained that there may be other reasons for those area school districts to transition to remote learning temporarily.

“A lot of other factors determine whether a district has to pivot to remote or stay in operation for face-to-face instruction,” he said. “If they are experiencing high levels of people under quarantine or key positions under quarantine, schools are very vulnerable without those key staff roles.”

Additionally, O’Rourke did say that preparations are being made with the Chautauqua County Health Department if the county is designated a micro-cluster.

“The Chautauqua County Health Department has demonstrated and communicated an intent to work very closely with school systems to plan ahead so that to the greatest extent possible if there is a yellow zone designation,” he said. “They have said they will help us meet whatever testing requirements are necessary to maintain face-to-face instruction.”

He added, “That will have to happen on a district-by-district basis. But we are working in advance right now that we are as ready as we can be.”

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