School’s weren’t forced to close when Western New York’s COVID numbers sparked higher restriction levels, but high testing requirements and other measures left districts between a rock and a hard place. A group of parents are rallying to open area schools back to in-person learning.
The state has since eased on COVID testing requirements, but Tarja Parssinen, mom of two and organizer of the OpenNewYorkSchoolsNow petition, said work still needs to be done.
“Even though I know our school districts have received word, for instance I’m in the Clarence School District, we still haven’t gotten official confirmation of what that means,” said Parssinen. “So we’re all still waiting to see how our school districts will take action or not take action. I’m expecting nothing to really happen for next week, and hopefully for kids, fingers crossed, to go back in January.”
Some school districts notably Ken-Ton, West Seneca, Maryvale, and Buffalo Public Schools, have kept the majority of students home since the pandemic first hit.
“Our kids are really suffering here. It truly is a mental health crisis,” she said. “I was saying just the other day that we do this to our worst offenders, we put prisoners in solitary confinement as a form of psychological torture. And essentially that is what many of our children have been exposed to since March”
Many medical professionals, including infectious disease physician Dr. Katherine Mullin of Roswell Park, say schools in New York have had relatively low transmission rates of the virus. Parssinen wants children back in-school, what she sees as the safest place for them.
“The ball is now in the court of the districts. We’re looking at school boards too, and we don’t really know what the hold up is. It’s unclear, so we’re asking for transparency,” Parssinen said. “Is it funding? Is it a lack of funding? Is it a lack of tests? Is it a lack of nurses to administer the tests?”
Parssinen and others involved want to at least see a plan. One that includes in-person learning times, safety protocols, and increased attention to the needs of children in special education.