SALAMANCA — Following the temporary closure to school buildings Oct. 14-16 and as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Cattaraugus County, Salamanca Board of Education members are hesitant to see more students returning to campuses in the coming weeks.
At the board’s regular meeting Oct. 20, Deputy Superintendent Mark Beehler said the district was considering having eighth- and 12th-grade students return to the high school campus in the coming weeks.
This suggestion was met with concern by board member Kerry John, who said with the number of COVID cases rising in the area, the district shouldn’t even discuss the possibility of bringing more kids into the building.
“I just don’t feel comfortable even having the conversation right now,” he said. “We talked about coming into this with a safe and sound approach. One thing we absolutely cannot do is control COVID.”
Beehler said some parents are requesting to have students return to the buildings. He said the school isn’t forcing anyone to come back and this provides an option for those families.
“We as a district believe we are able to provide education in-person in a safe manner. It doesn’t matter if it’s for one person or 500 people,” he said. “We believe we can do this model and upscale it slowly so that it’s safe for all of the people on campus.”
John said the board needs to evaluate the situation, saying making a plan is different from actively saying it’s time for more students to re-enter the buildings. He said the district is not there yet.
Board member Meghan McCune expressed her concern with flu season approaching, saying the district will get to a point of worrying about the flu and COVID with more interactive risk.
“I do feel for parents who are obviously concerned about academic performance, and then with younger kiddos with childcare issues,” she said. “But I’m really concerned with the ramping up of things. It’s going to explode this winter.”
McCune said the situation is more than a personal decision of risk, saying the more people who interact more often, no matter how safe the district thinks it is, still ups the risk of spreading COVID through the greater community.
Board President Theresa Ray asked why the 9th-, 10th- and 11th-grade students weren’t coming back into the building. Beehler said the 8th grade is structured with more groups staying together without cross exposure. For the seniors, it’s critical for them to graduate, especially students that are not as engaged and need to meet the graduation requirements.
“I just want to make sure of what we’re asking,” Ray said. “It’s quite a predicament because you want your kids to graduate, especially the seniors. I know we think we’re doing it in a safe way, but the numbers are rising and it’s scary for everybody.
John said the district needs to do another community survey and have all the facts before moving forward. McCune suggested a confidential survey to faculty and staff as well.
Beehler said there are concerns ranging from parents wanting their kids at school five days a week and others not wanting them in school at all. He said while there is some choice for the parent, the district has a responsibility to make sure the learning environment is as safe as possible regardless of the parents’ wishes.
Superintendent Robert Breidenstein said there is a wide range of models and approaches in the neighboring districts. He said the various administrators communicate frequently, but it depends on the situation in the community and keeping everyone safe.
“I would recommend the best approach is go slow, get the facts, don’t force anyone into any category or bucket list of what options they have, and just listen to the community and listen to the facts and the science we know from Cattaraugus County,” he said.