This is our first major fundraising event! Assemblyman DiPietro has generously offered to host a basket raffle on behalf of WNY Students First at his upcoming dinner. In order to make this event a success, we need you!
We are looking for donations from parents, businesses, and community members in Western New York to make this fundraiser a success!
Clarence Students First and WNY Students First would like to issue a statement regarding the Clarence District Board Meeting on 8/30/21.
1. No one at the Board of Education meeting on 8/30 was speaking on behalf of Clarence Students First. When a member or leader is representing the group, they will announce themselves as such.
2. Pete Harding is in no way affiliated with Clarence Students First, Western New York Students First, or any Students First organization in any district.
3. WNY Students First does not encourage or condone nonresidents speaking at Board of Education meetings in Clarence or any other district.
4. WNY Students First is a nonpartisan group that is not for or against masking. We support a parent's right to choose for their child. Students First supports all parent voices.
5. WNY Students First has spoken with the Clarence Superintendent about the issue. It was obvious to anyone in attendance at the board meeting that Mr. Harding's tone and demeanor was different from the rest of the speakers.
6. The behavior of certain actors who stand against parent voices, parent action, and parent choice in Clarence in the past year has been immature and spiteful. It goes against common decency, it damages the growth of our community, and it is inappropriate. Trust, integrity, and accountability are the key to a healthier, more inclusive district.
Western New York Students First is a group for parents, caregivers, teachers, and school district stakeholders across the region working toward the common goal of giving students and families an organized and active voice regarding the education of students within their districts.
While WNY Students First is encouraged by the fact that Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Erie County Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein now appear to understand the importance of keeping children in school, despite their actions and misleading statements over the last year, the group is extremely concerned that the ECDOH’s unnecessarily restrictive quarantine policy in schools will do the exact opposite this year. If so, this would represent the third year in a row in which in-person instruction is interrupted for school-aged children.
Under the new guidance, all students are required to mask regardless of vaccination status. Despite this cautious approach, “unvaccinated students within 3 feet or unvaccinated teachers/staff within 6 feet from a positive COVID-19 case for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more” will be required to quarantine for 10 days, even if close contacts were masked properly, remain asymptomatic, and test frequently.
Even worse, “if there are two or more cases in a classroom during a 10-day period, all unvaccinated individuals in the class will quarantine for 10 days” even if masks were used and even if there was no evidence of in-school transmission. This is problematic, particularly for elementary schools.
Since all children under 12 are unvaccinated, it seems likely that these arbitrary and highly unusual quarantine guidelines will be disruptive to in-school instruction (and youth sports) once again during the 2021-22 school year, particularly for elementary age students.
Every effort must be made by our public health officials and school administrators to ensure that children have the ability to attend school in person this year without unnecessary disruptions. The risks associated with another year of prolonged class “pauses” significantly outweigh the health risks related to Covid-19 for the vast majority of students.
Arbitrary quarantines and classroom closures will do little to slow the spread of Covid-19 and will only continue to harm our children.
Public health experts in other areas outside Erie County understand the significant harm that is caused by prolonged school closures and unnecessary quarantines. As a result, many have chosen to either remove quarantines altogether or implement “modified quarantines” to allow asymptomatic close contacts to continue to attend school if they were masked at the time of exposure and test twice per week for 10 days.
A balanced approach would minimize the disruptive impact associated with preemptive quarantines by utilizing empirical, local data to inform decisions and policy. It is unclear if Erie County Department of Health tracked this data last year and there is no indication that they are tracking this data for the upcoming school year either.
If masks are so ineffective that highly restrictive quarantine policies and disruptive classroom closures are also needed to stop transmission in schools, why have a mask mandate at all? Masking is not a zero-harm mitigation. Prolonged mask requirements can impact language development, social emotional learning, bonding with others, and literacy in young children and have negative health side-effects.
While WNY Students First does not support arbitrary or long-term mask mandates, the group understands that masks may be useful for brief periods of time to keep children out of quarantine and in school when, and only when, the vaccine is not available to children under the age of 12 AND community infection rates are high.
However, masks should only be used if they are effective in preventing transmission in schools and keeping children in school. If masks are not effective in keeping students in the classroom, then other measures should be used instead. Either way, the goal has to be to keep students in school throughout the year. Quarantines and classroom closures should only be used as a last resort.
School is an essential service and needs to be treated accordingly. Arbitrary quarantines and classroom closures create far more harm than they prevent. Vaccines and frequent testing of close contacts, as opposed to potentially harmful mitigations such as quarantines and school closures, should be used to allow children to continue to attend school and participate in extracurricular activities.
We cannot continue to treat children simply as vectors of this illness when they are least impacted by Covid-19. Classroom closures and quarantines should only be used when all other mitigations, including social distancing, ventilation, masking, and testing, have proven ineffective in preventing transmission in schools. From a scientific perspective, we have the ability to do far better for our students. But do we have the political will?
Lastly, all Covid-related school restrictions must be eliminated once the vaccines have been made available to all students OR when transmission rates decline. Our public health experts need to be transparent and provide students, parents, caregivers, teachers, and school administrators with the metrics that will be used to end the various mandates and restrictions for school-aged children.
Our leaders in Erie County and many of our school administrators have failed students and families over the last year and half. More needs to be done to ensure that students are not harmed by unnecessary quarantines and school closures for a third straight year.
WNY Students First recognizes the challenges associated with limiting transmission of the Delta variant, protecting the health of children, and keeping schools open. This will not be easy. But, we owe it to our children to apply what is working in other areas to help keep schools open in WNY this year, even during periods of high community transmission.
WNY Students First calls on the ECDOH and school superintendents to work together to create a more balanced plan that truly aims to keep our students in the safest place possible – the classroom.
WNY Students First is a non-partisan group of parents, caregivers, teachers, and school district stakeholders across Western New York working toward the common goal of giving students and families an organized and active voice regarding the education of students within their districts. We recognize that families are best equipped to make decisions for their children. We respect their freedom of choice.
As you all are aware, it has been a roller coaster in New York State over the past month with respect to our state government and their role in the reopening plans for schools in the fall.
Over the course of the summer, school districts were alerted by email that they could choose to use camp/ daycare guidance to allow for mask choice, 2020-21 CDC school guidelines, or 2020-21 NYS school guidelines. The vast majority of school districts chose to put parents in the decision making seat as to what was best for their child, with the exception of a few (Buffalo Public Schools and NYC schools). Some families chose to send their children with masks and some chose to send their children without masks. There has been no indication of uncontrolled spread within summer schools or camps.
The CDC and AAP have now recommended universal masking for schools, regardless of vaccination status.
It is important to note that these decisions made by the CDC (and AAP) have not been supported by data and neither of these organizations have made any effort to investigate the most disruptive pieces of remaining COVID school policies- quarantines and masking- or adjust recommendations. Thankfully there has been acknowledgment from both organizations on the importance of in person education, acknowledgment of the science WNYSF and others brought to light in the spring of the arbitrary nature of social distancing requirements and there is no longer a color coded community transmission matrix that forces children into hybrid schooling.
NYSED put forth their own suggested protocols for schools last Thursday. It is the current legal opinion of our counsel that this is not a binding document that mandates compliance. At this point, school districts are responsible for creating their own COVID policies. A few school districts have announced their mask choice policies, but most are in a holding pattern and plan to release details "at a later date." Erie County Department of Health also indicated to area superintendents that they would also be issuing guidance "as soon as possible." It is unclear if this ECDOH guidance would be mandates or not, but there is a current state of emergency in Erie County that was extended by County Executive Poloncarz until September. With the impending resignation of Governor Cuomo, we anticipate that Kathy Hochul will move to make a universal mask requirement for schools as evidenced by several comments she has made to media outlets. This would change our legal approach to be a statewide action.
As the ultimate mandates to be imposed on NY schoolchildren remains undetermined, we are working through various contingent legal strategies to address what we anticipate are the likely outcomes.
The ultimate outcome of any legal action is of critical importance, not only to our children now but in the future. Creating legal precedent on this issue must be done carefully and with the best interests of this and future generations.
Our delay in commencing legal strategy is not a result of waning interest in this issue. Instead, it is a result of carefully evolving legal strategy during an ever evolving challenge while simultaneously advocating to school boards and legislators.
We are still very much in this fight.
We understand how frustrated parents feel and are living and breathing the same emotions. What is the plan one week gives way to something different the next week. Once we see what ECDOH and incoming Governor Hochul do, we will be able to take the next necessary steps.
Please continue advocating for your children by writing and calling your legislators. Thank you for your support and for giving hope to the dream of parents deciding what is best for their children.
Board Member & Legal Liaison
WNY Students First commends the Clarence School District for its recent initiatives aimed at supporting the mental health of students following months of parent advocacy.
While WNY Students First has been critical of many school districts in Western New York, including Clarence, for not doing enough to advocate for the safe reopening of schools, the organization is encouraged to see that many school districts are finally starting to address the educational gaps and mental health issues that have arisen during the COVID pandemic. Students have suffered greatly in the last year; in hindsight, this seems to have been without reason. Teachers and mental health experts will be essential in correcting the impacts of COVID to all students and their work has never been more important.
In addition, WNY Students First recognizes that the Clarence School District has had a long and impressive track record of academic excellence due in part to the hard work that has been done by many teachers in Clarence, both during the pandemic and prior.
Nonetheless, it is important for all school boards, including those of higher achieving school districts, such as Clarence, to meet basic governance standards. Indeed, the last year has shown just how critical school boards are in supporting the education and well-being of students.
To that point, WNY Students First has discovered a number of governance concerns at the Clarence Board of Education, from reducing opportunity for public comment to unacceptable conduct during Board of Education meetings. However, all of those things pale in comparison to what took place before the Board of Election vote in May.
Through FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests, WNY Students First has uncovered that Board Member Dennis Priore used his official, district-provided board of education email to solicit votes for his election, by emailing PTO leadership to ask for their votes and encouraging them to forward on the message.
NYSSBA bylaws state that:
“School board members who wish to express their personal opinions about issues before the voters must not use district funds, facilities or channels of communication to encourage voters to vote in support of or against the school budget or any proposition”
Several other board members were part of this unlawful electioneering. Board leaders Michael Fuchs and James Boglioli were both blind copied on these emails.
These board members must answer to the community for their breach of ethics, trust, and privilege. Board of education members are meant to be public servants and public leaders. WNY Students First continues to investigate Dennis Priore's abuse of power:
The misappropriation of school district assets to influence elections, the efforts to reduce community engagement, and the Code of Ethics violations, when taken together, demonstrate a concerning pattern by specific board members to put their own personal gain ahead of the school district's students. These governance failures need to be addressed before they have a more adverse impact on our children.
East Aurora's Board of Education (BOE) has an open seat that needs to be filled as a result of board member John Sigeti stepping down from the BOE. WNY Students First has been informed by sources in the district that the BOE was aware by at least May 1st, several weeks before the May 18th election, that Mr. Sigeti would need to resign due to his move out of the district.
This raises a number of important questions. First, why wasn't this information made public prior to the election? And, perhaps more importantly, why wasn't the community given the opportunity to vote for someone to replace Mr. Sigeti's seat on May 18th? These questions are troubling, but more concerning is the effort currently underway by the BOE to choose the new board member in secret, without transparency and input from the community.
According to the East Aurora Advertiser, “There’s already an indication that they want to interview candidates behind closed doors, because the two meeting notices that have been released about opening applications and interviewing candidates state that the board anticipates going into executive session. They are also both going to be held in the superintendent’s office with limited space compared to the multi-purpose room at the middle school where board meetings typically take place, also indicating the school board does not plan on having an audience.”
The decision regarding who fills this seat should be in the hands of the voters in the community, not at the sole discretion of the board members. Such an egregious action would likely create significant conflicts of interest at the BOE. The attempt by the BOE to mislead voters prior to the election and the subsequent decision to unilaterally appoint Mr. Sigeti’s replacement reflects the poor governance practices at the BOE.
WNY Students First agrees with the East Aurora Advertiser Editorial Board in that the 543 votes for BOE candidate Debra Chmielowiec should not be disregarded. These votes should matter. In fact, if the BOE had placed the now vacant seat up for a vote in May as they clearly should have, Mrs. Chmielowiec would have properly been elected to the BOE this year.
If the East Aurora BOE continues with their current applicant selection process, they are doing so in the face of the entire East Aurora community. During a year in which the public’s trust in leadership at every level has been eroded, it is more important than ever for the East Aurora BOE to make decisions that are in the interests of all stakeholders and reflect proper governance standards.
East Aurora parents should have a voice, and that voice should be included in filling this vacant Board seat.
WNY Students First requests that the East Aurora BOE make this process public and transparent, and rightfully include input from the community as should have happened in May.
WNY Students First
From the New Statewide Partnership
New York Statewide Non-Partisan Parents for Science in Schools:
Open Letter to Governor Cuomo On Mask-Gate
& Media Guide
Open Letter to Governor Cuomo from Statement from New York Statewide Non-Partisan Parents for Science in Schools On Mask-Gate
June 15, 2021
Dear Governor Cuomo,
It is time to remove the mask mandate for minors. There is no longer a legitimate, justifiable reason to mask NYS public school children. The ongoing mask mandate is unnecessary, harmful and cruel.
We are fed up. You have intentionally misled NYS public schools families, our children, educators and administrators.
On Friday, June 4th, Dr. Zucker, the New York State Health Commissioner, announced NYS intended to lift the mask mandate in schools, effective Monday, June 7th. Yet, on Sunday, families learned that the NYS Department of Education was forced to clarify that there had been no change to the school guidance at that time, and that schools must continue masking.
The DOH sent the entire educational system into a tailspin over the weekend and abdicated their responsibility to provide timely guidance to superintendents. We deserve better.
No additional data was provided by the CDC to Dr. Zucker to support continued masking of children. The mandate should be lifted.
Flip-flopping in one weekend on a decision that should be grounded in nothing but science and public health data makes it clear this decision is nothing but politics. We are tired of our children being used as pawns for politicians and lobbyists. Kids need to come first!
We watched Dr. Zucker testify before the Assembly on February 25th that new school guidance would be forthcoming in “a couple days” only to have to wait 44 days for him to follow through.
We have watched other states follow the science on school quarantines. When in school transmission was shown to be 0.7%, they adjusted their quarantine policies accordingly. New York State still quarantines students for 10 days after a covid exposure. Often, entire classrooms have been quarantined with no additional cases found. Parent groups have sent FOIA requests on student quarantine data from our respective counties and districts in an effort to stop this harmful practice. How much in person education was needlessly lost due to NYSDOH’s failure to follow science and adjust quarantine protocols for students?
We watched as you and NYSDOH failed to produce any evidence in court to demonstrate why 6 feet of distancing was necessary for secondary students at “high” rates of community transmission.
You have no scientific or rational basis to continue mandating masks for minors.
There is enough science in place to conclude that at this juncture, taking into account high vaccination rates, low community infection rates and even lower transmission rates among children, requiring children to wear masks has no meaningful impact on COVID-19 transmission.
Additionally, there is nothing safe, sound or humane about masking children when the temperatures are soaring into the 90’s. It is unnecessary, mean spirited and cruel.
It is a gross embarrassment and failure of leadership to ignore the needs of the most vulnerable, our children.
After over 16+ months of disparate solutions from school district to district without giving parents a seat at the table, we have watched our children suffer from massive learning loss and isolation. During the last hot month of the school year ahead, we are calling on you, Governor Cuomo, to do the right thing by New York state’s families and children. Parents and students should have the choice.
We demand the immediate removal of the mask mandate for all NYS school children.
On behalf of our children,
New York Statewide Non-Partisan Parents for Science in Schools
KEEP NYC SCHOOLS OPEN
Western New York Students First
Open Schools Westchester NY
Unmask the Kids - Westchester
ROC for Educational Freedom, Rochester
NY Parents and Teachers Against Distance Learning
Unmask My Child
Unmask Our Children! WNY
Moms for Liberty, Nassau
Moms for Liberty, Suffolk
FM Parents Advocating for In-Person Learning
The efforts required to offer students and families the choice of returning to school in person and to address the educational gaps and mental health issues caused by prolonged school closures have highlighted the need for parents, caregivers, teachers, and school district stakeholders to work together to advocate for the needs of students across school districts in Western New York.
WNY Students First was founded to help give students and families an organized and active voice regarding the education of students within their school districts. While the full reopening of all school districts in Western New York remains the organization’s top priority, WNY Students First is beginning to increase its focus on making sure that the perspectives of students and families are included in the formal decision-making process at the school district level going forward.
Students, parents, and caregivers represent the largest constituents within all school districts. Furthermore, the number one mission for every school district, above all else, should be to provide the very best education possible for all of its students. To achieve this mandate and to ensure that the needs of all students are being met by schools, it is therefore essential for parents and caregivers to have representation on all school boards.
WNY Students First believes that diversity, equity, and inclusion are important principles for all organizations, including schools. Studies shows that better decisions are made when diverse perspectives are included in the decision-making process. As a matter of proper governance, it is critical for all school district stakeholders, including students, teachers, parents, and taxpayers, to be represented in some way on school boards.
As the school reopening and mental health debate has shown, the perspectives of students and families have, at times, taken a back seat to other considerations. WNY Students First believes that part of the problem is poor governance at the school board level and a lack of parent participation and representation.
To help address this issue, to make sure that the perspectives of students and families are being heard, and to create a more diverse and inclusive decision-making process, WNY Students First will continue to advocate for student issues and promote proper representation on school boards.
As always, please reach out with questions or thoughts.
WNY Students First
Dr. Kriner Cash, Superintendent
Buffalo Public Schools
712 City Hall
65 Niagara Square
Buffalo, NY 14202
WNY Students First is writing to urge you to stop misleading the Buffalo Public Schools community about the safety of schools and to stop downplaying the serious long-term damage that is being done to the health, education, and well-being of school-aged children in Buffalo as a result of prolonged school closures.
During the last Buffalo Public Schools Board meeting, you made reference to a study that showed that the prevalence of Covid-19 in students and school staff in Omaha, Nebraska was much higher than implied by testing. The results of this study are directionally in line with studies in other settings that show that Covid-19 cases have been much higher than previously known through testing.
The good news is that the data suggests that serious health complications and deaths per case are much lower than initially feared.
More importantly, the conclusion of the study was not that schools are unsafe. Indeed, prevalence does not equate to transmission. Studies, including those done by the CDC, have shown that transmission rates in schools are extremely low even when positivity rates in the community are high. Vaccinations help to protect school staff and masks help to limit the transmission of the virus. This is why schools are safe now.
The point of the study, however, was to show that testing at schools could provide an additional layer of protection to help schools reopen safely. Dr. Jana Broadhurst, the author of the study, noted that “what we have accomplished here is proof of principle that this can be carried out successfully in an urban school district, among an otherwise underserved population, and we can make an immediate impact on the safety of our schools through rapid case identification.”
If, by referencing this study, you were trying to make the point that Buffalo Public Schools could be reopened safely now by vaccinating school staff, wearing masks, and conducting rapid tests, that would make sense.
However, by suggesting that higher positivity rates in the community means that schools are unsafe is to ignore the well-established science behind Covid-19 transmission in schools, the effectiveness of masks, the vaccination of school staff, and the recommendations of the CDC and the NYSDOH.
When masks are used, schools are safe, especially now that teachers have been vaccinated. Your misinformation is needlessly creating fear and confusion in the community.
It is also extremely important for our school leaders to recognize the long-term consequences of prolonged school closures on the well-being of school-aged children, especially since schools will be tasked with undoing this damage over the next several years.
By stating that “our children are resilient” and that “they will catch up,” you are understating the severity of the educational gaps and mental health issues resulting from remote instruction. This reflects either a lack of compassion or a lack of understanding of the real problems now facing many children and families.
WNY Students First believes that families in all school districts should have the option to return to full in-person instruction 5 days per week. By not providing the essential service of education, Buffalo Public Schools is exacerbating the inequities that already existed prior to the pandemic.
Students in Buffalo deserve to have the same educational opportunities as other students across the country, New York State, and Erie County. It is not fair to deny students in Buffalo the right to an in-person education as other districts reopen, particularly now that school staff have been vaccinated, masks have proven to be effective in limiting transmission, and the social distancing guidelines from the NYSDOH and CDC have been revised.
Furthermore, the NYSDOH guidelines state that “to ensure equity in education, Responsible Parties should prioritize efforts to return all students to in-person education.” The Buffalo Public School District has a responsibility to reopen all elementary schools immediately and consider ways in which it can bring more secondary students back into the classroom.
Given the misinformation regarding the safety of schools and the longer-term consequences of school closures, WNY Students First will be hosting a series of webinars with experts to help address questions and concerns in the community.
We invite the members of the Buffalo Public School Board and the BPS community to attend these informational sessions to learn more about the science behind school safety and the significant educational and mental health issues that will need to be addressed by educators and doctors in the area over the next several years.
WNY Students First
Over the last several months, WNY Students First has heard from many students, parents, caregivers, and teachers who have shared their stories about the ways in which remote learning has impacted the health of so many children in Western New York. The health consequences are real and they are heartbreaking.
While officials in Erie County refuse to even acknowledge the health crisis among our youngest citizens, it is important for our members to know that they are not alone, that their voices are being heard, and that WNY Students First is committed to helping all of its members in whatever way it can.
To that end, WNY Students First will be hosting online informational meetings over the next several weeks to bring students, parents, teachers, school leaders, doctors, and scientists together to raise awareness of the safety of schools and to help families find the support that their children need after more than a year of remote instruction.
These information sessions will focus on three critical areas: 1) mental health, 2) educational gaps, and 3) the safety of schools.
To be clear, these informational meetings are not meant to divert attention from the meaningful work being done by all counties in Western New York as it relates to educating the community about the importance of vaccinations and the use of masks. Indeed, it is the effectiveness of both vaccinations for school staff and masks for children that has made schools safe.
Rather, these informational meetings are intended to help address the void that has been created by the lack of local leadership on the issues of children’s health and school safety.
Earlier this year, WNY Students First focused its efforts on raising awareness of the impact of prolonged school closures on the mental health of children, highlighting the scientific research that shows that schools are safe when masks are used, and attempting to engage with the local officials to help schools reopen safely.
While WNY Students First remains focused on the mental health of students and the safe reopening of schools, it is clear that our efforts to engage with Erie County have failed. Sadly, we have concluded that the leaders there are more interested in politics than the health of our children.
Nonetheless, WNY Students First remains committed to doing what it can to support students throughout Western New York. The upcoming informational meetings reflect our continued commitment to address some of the misinformation coming from Erie County, raise awareness of the issues facing school-aged children, help families find the support that they need, and work cooperatively with school district stakeholders to reopen safely.
In addition, WNY Students First will be engaging with other counties in Western New York to make sure that needs of students there are being addressed as well. So far, WNY Students First has been extremely encouraged by the efforts of officials in other counties in Western New York to help schools reopen safely and support those children that have suffered from more than a year of remote instruction.
This does not mean that WNY Students First is giving up on Erie County. Our invitation to work in partnership with Erie County officials remains open as the sole objective of WNY Students First is to advocate for students in the region.
Furthermore, WNY Students First encourages its members in Erie County to reach out whenever the organization can help. Specifically, we want to hear from those families that are struggling to find support for their school-aged children. We want to hear from stakeholders in school districts that are not following the science in reopening. We want to hear from school officials that believe that the County is not working in good faith to help them reopen safely, as recommended by the NYSDOH. And, we want to hear from those who believe that the ECDOH is inappropriately quarantining students and staff that are not within 6 feet of an infectious person for more than 15 minutes, as recommended by the CDC. WNY Students First will continue to advocate for those students in Erie County that are being harmed by not having access to the essential service of in-person education.
WNY Students First will not be distracted by the petty and divisive political agendas of local politicians. Instead, WNY Students First will remain steadfast in its commitment to support all students and schools in Western New York through community engagement, education, and advocacy.
We look forward to seeing you on one of our upcoming informational webinars and continuing the important work to advocate for students throughout Western New York during these challenging times.
As always, please reach out with any questions or thoughts.
WNY Students First