6 feet of distancing a roadblock for fully reopening Monroe County schools

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The nation’s top public health agency said Friday that in-person schooling can resume safely with masks, social distancing and other strategies, adding that vaccination of teachers, while important, is not a prerequisite for reopening.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its long-awaited road map for getting students back to classrooms in the middle of a pandemic.

MORE | CDC: Strong evidence in-person schooling can be done safely

Superintendent of Schools for Monroe County Kathleen Graupman held a media availability on Tuesday to answers questions on how this will impact schools in Monroe County.

Overall, Graupman says the new CDC guidelines aren’t too different from what districts in our area have already been doing. She says a lot of the guidance is geared towards districts around the country that haven’t opened in person at all to this point.

Graupman said she would lean on guidance from the state on schools potentially reopening for full in-person instruction, but added that as the Superintendent for Greece Central School District, she couldn’t speak for other districts at this time.

Graupman said she wants to respect the wishes of districts and parents to do what they believe is right, whether it’s resuming fully in-person, maintaining a hybrid model, or otherwise.

Graupman said a big hurdle for reopening fully is transportation, where six feet of social distancing on a bus is a difficult logistics task, adding that some buildings don’t have the space to maintain the distancing.

“The six foot distancing is a big piece, but the other big piece is buses,” Graupman said. “That is a gigantic hurdle to get kids to school when it’s 21 allowed on a bus, and it was 60 previously.”

Graupman said the other mitigation efforts — like masking, cleaning, and contact tracing — have been handled well by local schools this academic year.

Graupman said specific criteria would make it easier to realize the prospect of fully reopening.

“We are advocating for clearer metrics to keep students safe,” Graupman said. “Along with vaccination and testing. The testing we have done, when we were in the orange zone, while it was a hurdle, once we figured that out — it’s not a hard process, but it gave us the security that the rate in schools is much lower than the community rate. We were testing 5% per week, and it gave us a general number. I think that makes a whole lot of sense.”

A question that keeps coming up for schools reopening fully is how youth high-risk sports are allowed to continue while full in-person instruction is not.

MORE | High-risk high school sports to resume in Monroe County after New York changes COVID-19 guidance

“The reality is that sports are an extracurricular,” Graupman said. “The recommendation that a high risk sport — it’s a choice — versus being engaged in school is mandatory. You don’t have that choice, and there should be more scrutiny in that environment. That still is hard because there’s some conflict there that doesn’t make a lot of sense when kids are touching and in close proximity. The recognition in that there’s risk in all of this and we have to make adjustments based on this. As Dr. Mendoza has said, if there’s a problem, we can always shut something down.”

Graupman said the approval for sports as an extracurricular gives a path for other activities.

“Once that decision was made with sports, we did call our music directors to talk about what they’re going to do this spring,” Graupman said. “We’re not taking away the guidance, but a musical we can work on with social distancing. We have one group who is doing a virtual performance and some are working on in person.”

Moments after Graupman’s briefing, News 8 broke the story about a COVID-19 outbreak for the Irondequoit girls basketball team, which forced Tuesday’s game to be postponed.

Graupman is supportive of folks working in an educational capacity receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I can say clearly that we’re advocating strongly to get teachers and staff vaccinated,” Graupman said. “I have 1,000 teachers and 3,000 staff, and they’re all important.”

Graupman says as challenging as this year has been, she says it also provides optimism for what the future may hold — especially in regards to COVID-19 variant strains from the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil.

“I feel like this year has been an important year,” Graupman said. “We started with low numbers, it went up, and ew can stay open with a hybrid model. I think the six feet distancing piece of it all, I think we’re not going to see much relief there because of the variants.”

Regarding a New York State Department of Education report on a drop enrollment numbers, Graupman said she wasn’t very concerned about the matter.

“Drop in enrollment is important, but I’m not really worried about it,” Graupman said. “Our kindergarten numbers are very low and I think that’s true across the country. Homeschooling numbers were up this year. We also have the migration to private schools and some counterparts which are going five days per week. Given the circumstances, they chose some other things because of the pandemic. After I think we’ll have a small bump.”

Graupman said alternative schooling plans for families is a sign of them figuring out how to manage their lives during the pandemic.

“What we’re dealing with is parents who are struggling,” Graupman said. “No need or situation fits everyone else’s’ perfectly. Most families want to be back, and if given the choice, I think they will want their kids back.”

Watch the full briefing:

This is a developing story. News 8 WROC will provide updates as they become available.

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