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State Guidance On COVID To Impact Schools Differently

New York’s late adoption of federal Center for Disease Control guidelines for schools will affect area schools differently.

CDC officials announced on Aug. 10 the end of many pandemic-related restrictions, including the recommendation schools do routine daily testing, although that practice can be reinstated in certain situations during a surge in infections, officials said. The CDC also dropped a “test-to-stay” recommendation, which said students exposed to COVID-19 could regularly test — instead of quarantining at home — to keep attending school. With no quarantine recommendation anymore, the testing option disappeared too.

Gov. Kathy Hochul took an additional 11 days before announcing the state was also adopting the CDC’s recommendations.

Fredonia superintendent Brad Zilliox told The Post-Journal and OBSERVER he didn’t believe there would be restrictions when school opens, but at the time the district hadn’t heard anything official from the state.

“We don’t believe that there will be any, but we have received no official guidance from the state,” Zilliox said. “By default we are going with the same guidance that we ended last year with. If it turns out we need to be more limiting we will have to adapt.”

The Jamestown Public Schools District, on the other hand, decided to plan its year without waiting for Hochul’s announcement. Dr. Kevin Whitaker, Jamestown superintendent, said parents should expect a return to school that is more similar to 2019-20 than what parents have seen the last two school years.

“Jamestown Public Schools plans to return to our normal schedule in the cafeterias with breakfast and lunch served Monday through Friday free of charge for every student starting in September,” Whitaker said. “As there is currently no New York state requirement for social distancing in public spaces, students will eat together with their grade level. Meal times will not be split up as in the past few years. As New York state reviews its pandemic policies and releases any new changes to school districts, JPS will follow any recommended changes for cafeterias.”

When Whitaker talked with The Post-Journal there were no current restrictions for social distancing in public spaces, classrooms, cafeterias or auditoriums. Jamestown’s Athletic Director Ben Drake added that there are also no restrictions for athletic teams or spectators.

More than anything for the upcoming year, Whitaker said he hopes the state considers the impact of mental health that the pandemic has had on students over the last few years.

“One of the largest areas of fallout from the Covid pandemic and the lockdows that resulted has been the impact on mental health,” Whitaker said. “Increased mental health related diagnoses are up significantly, and a poll conducted in 2021 showed that nearly 50% of parents reported that their child has shown signs of a mental health disorder during or after the pandemic. While JPS has rolled out increases in social workers, psychologists and counselors, in addition to behavioral support personnel, our hope is that the state helps us to sustain this effort by providing meaningful funding, or creating support networks for our struggling students in order for us to help them to return to pre-pandemic levels of mental health.”

Whitaker said that while there are no mask requirements as of yet, JPS will keep the protocol in place that anyone who chooses to wear one may and may request a mask from the school during the day if needed.

Pine Valley is in a similar state to the others in that they are waiting for guidance that is anticipated to be coming soon. There are also no athletic restrictions yet for them either.

“We hope as a district that any policies will allow us to have our students here in person to be able to receive the best available education and be safe,” Superintendent Bryna Moritz said. “We can’t wait to start the school year and learn and grow at Pine Valley.”

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