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
WNY Students First is calling on Mr. Poloncarz to demand the resignation of Dr. Gale Burstein for not fulfilling her obligation to protect the health and well-being of children in Erie County. Not only are the ECDOH policies directly harming school-aged children, they are doing absolutely nothing to slow the spread of Covid-19.
Over the past few weeks, representatives from several school districts in Erie County have reached out to WNY Students First to express their frustration with Dr. Burstein and what they see as a continued effort by the ECDOH to actively work against those schools that would like to reopen for the benefit of students.
Specifically, Dr. Burstein has apparently threatened those schools that plan on reopening at less than six feet of social distancing between students by stating that the ECDOH will quarantine all students and staff in a classroom or on a bus when there is a confirmed Covid-19 case. This is a highly abnormal policy that is not being followed in other areas and has no scientific merit.
The ECDOH school quarantine policy runs counter to the latest scientific research that clearly shows that transmission rates in schools are extremely low when masks are used, and conflicts with the recently updated CDC guidance, which defines a close contact as “someone who was within 6 feet of a person diagnosed with COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24 hour period.”
Despite the growing body of scientific evidence and the conservative CDC guidance, the ECDOH appears to be taking a much more aggressive and radical approach to quarantining students and staff members in schools. The sole purpose of this extreme policy can only be to keep schools closed, since it is not backed by science.
The latest effort by the ECDOH continues a disturbing pattern of overreach whereby the County has worked to prevent the safe reopening of schools in Erie County. In contrast with other counties in New York State, Dr. Burstein overruled the NYSDOH earlier this year by not allowing schools in Erie County to reopen at less than six feet of social distancing with the use of masks and barriers. In addition, the ECDOH has arbitrarily recommended that some schools in Erie County close even when health guidelines were being followed and there was no in-school transmission.
By any objective measure, these policies are not working. Erie County has had one of the highest transmission rates in the entire State. Indeed, the only thing that the ECDOH school policies have definitively accomplished is to set students behind academically and harm the mental health of many school-aged children.
In calling for Mr. Poloncarz to demand the resignation of Dr. Burstein, WNY Students First cites the following ECDOH actions and policies that run counter to public interests:
As County officials have noted previously, Erie County has indeed taken a very different approach than almost every other county in New York State with respect to schools. County health officials have enriched themselves through the unusual practice of paying overtime to salaried managers while making every effort to overrule the NYSDOH to keep schools closed and to mislead the public about the safety of schools.
The result: a growing mental health crisis for students, severe educational losses for children, and one of the highest transmission rates in the entire State.
It is time to recognize what everyone already knows, namely that not only are these policies not effective in reducing transmission rates in our community, they are unnecessarily harming children and costing taxpayers millions of dollars. As they say, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
WNY Students First is calling on County Executive Poloncarz to find new leadership for the ECDOH, and for the Health Department to redirect its efforts and financial resources to provide the support that so many children desperately need after more than a year of remote instruction.
Taxpayer funds should be going to help kids that have been left behind by the County during the pandemic, not to line the pocket book of Dr. Burstein. The community would be better served if this money instead went to the schools, teachers, doctors, and social workers that will be called upon to help repair the damage that the County officials, including Dr. Burstein, have helped create.
WNY Students First looks forward to hopefully working together with the County under new leadership at the ECDOH to help establish a more science-based, balanced, and collaborative process for reopening schools and supporting school-aged children with input from local doctors and all school district stakeholders, including students, parents, caregivers, and teachers.
WNY Students First
WNY Students First is providing the following statement to its members, the media, school districts in Western New York, and our county health departments in response to the updated NYSDOH guidance for schools as well as the ECDOH statement on schools.
WNY Students First is pleased to see that the arbitrary six foot social distancing guideline, which prevented many schools in New York State from reopening fully, was reduced to three feet. Science never supported this “health” guideline as it did less to slow transmission than it did harm to students.
This change should allow all elementary schools in New York State to reopen fully this spring at any level of community transmission.
However, WNY Students First remains concerned that the ECDOH, based on the statement that it issued regarding the updated NYSDOH school guidance, will continue to make it difficult for elementary schools in Erie County to reopen fully this spring by continuing to quarantine those children that are within six feet of an infectious student for more than ten minutes. This outdated policy runs counter to the data from the CDC that shows that transmission rates in schools are extremely low at three feet of social distancing when masks are used.
WNY Students First is asking the ECDOH to update its quarantine policies for schools to reflect the latest scientific research as well as the recently revised guidance from the CDC and the NYSDOH. The six-foot quarantine policy is clearly inconsistent with the updated guidance from the CDC and the NYSDOH and will only serve to continue to harm children.
Given the unnecessary damage that has already been done to young students this year, WNY Students First expects local schools districts and health departments to work together to ensure that all elementary schools are open as soon as possible to those families that wish to see their children attend school full-time, consistent with the mandate from the NYSDOH.
WNY Students First is extremely disappointed that the NYSDOH social distancing guidelines for middle schools and high schools are tied to community transmission rates. At just 100 new cases per 100,000 people over 7 days, middle schools and high schools will need to either move back to six feet of social distancing or cohort, according to the new guidance. Since many schools, particularly high schools, are unable to cohort, this guideline will effectively force many secondary schools in New York State to remain in hybrid mode.
Scientific studies, including research from the CDC, show that transmission rates in schools are extremely low even when community spread is high. While transmission rates in older students have been slightly higher than younger students, the difference has been negligible in schools when masks are used properly. Furthermore, the latest research definitively proves that there is next to no difference in transmission rates in schools at three feet or six feet spacing when masks are used, a point reinforced by the CDC and the change in NYSDOH distancing guidance itself.
Like the arbitrary six feet distancing requirement last fall, the new guidance with respect to distancing and cohorting serves no purpose other than preventing many secondary schools from fully reopening this spring. We believe that the scientific and legal validity of this guideline is questionable at best.
By effectively preventing many secondary schools from reopening this spring, and not following the science, the updated guidelines are taking students outside of the safest possible environment, the classroom, and forcing them back into the community where transmission rates are much higher and masks are used less frequently.
In addition to the devastating impact that remote/hybrid learning is having on the mental health of many middle and high school-aged children, the new guidelines will likely result in higher levels of community transmission, not less. This policy will endanger the health and well-being of students and adults throughout New York State.
WNY Students First will continue to advocate for students in secondary schools and will help its members evaluate any and all options to help bring these children back to school fully and safely this spring.
One of the biggest tragedies during the pandemic has been the denial of critical services for children with disabilities. While the updated NYSDOH guidance clearly calls for the prioritization of “in-person instruction for students with disabilities who require special education and related services,” WNY Students First is concerned about the highly abnormal policies that have been used by the ECDOH, vis-à-vis other counties, to deny important services for the children in the community with special needs.
WNY Students First demands that this injustice stop immediately. Enough damage has been done to these children and Erie County officials, including Mark Poloncarz, Dr. Burstein, and Mary Martin, should be held responsible.
County Health Departments
The NYSDOH guidance makes it clear that “local health departments are the entity charged with ensuring the enforcement of these minimum standards.” However, in Western New York, our county health commissioners have ignored the NYSDOH guidance all year by not allowing schools to reopen fully with the use of masks and barriers, as occurred in other counties throughout New York State.
WNY Students First calls on Dr. Burstein and Mr. Stapleton to follow the updated NYSDOH guidance and work cooperatively with school districts to “prioritize efforts to return all students to in-person instruction” this spring, as required by the State. Our local leaders need to be held accountable for their role in preventing schools from reopening and harming students, especially if they continue to do so this spring.
WNY Students First notes that the CDC recently updated its guidance with respect to the transmission of Covid-19 from surfaces. In short, though “it is possible to be infected through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects (fomites),…the risk is generally considered to be low.” The latest research shows that there is absolutely no scientific reason to withhold students from school one day per week to disinfect surfaces.
WNY Students First is calling upon school districts to return to in-person instruction five days per week when allowed per NYSDOH guidelines.
The updated NYSDOH guidance also requires school districts to “provide opportunities for feedback” from school district stakeholders prior to changing social distancing between students.
WNY Students First expects school districts to properly weigh input from students, parents, caregivers, and school district stakeholders in the reopening process this time around given the tremendous damage that has already been done to children over the last 13 months.
Lastly, the NYSDOH guidelines state that “the school/district’s decision to move to shorter physical distances will come down to a local community’s risk tolerance based on its unique circumstances.”
WNY Students First believes that school districts have a legal obligation to reduce social distancing to three feet, when allowed, in order to increase access to in-person instruction if parents and caregivers wish to have their children attend school. WNY Students First does not believe that school districts should be allowed to use wider spacing requirements that have no scientific basis to prevent students from receiving in-person instruction.
If the CDC and NYSDOH deem three feet of distancing to be safe, WNY Students First does not believe that school districts should be permitted to arbitrarily overrule the public health departments, and any attempt to do so, as Buffalo Public Schools did this year with their arbitrary eight foot distancing requirement, may represent a breach of their legal obligations.
WNY Students First will continue to advocate for students in all school districts in Western New York, including Buffalo Public Schools, that are being denied the basic right to an education and will support those members that would like to consider ways in which the community can help bring these students back to school.
 New York State Department of Health, “Interim Guidance for In-Person Instruction at Pre-K to Grade 12 Schools During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency,” April 9, 2021
 Erie County Department of Health, “Erie County Department of Health Provides Statement in Response to Updates to New York State School Guidance,” April 10, 2021
 Amy Falk, MD; Alison Benda; Peter Falk, OD; Sarah Steffen, MMP; Zachary Wallace; Tracy Beth Hoeg, MD, PhD, CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, “COVID-19 Cses and Transmission in 17 K-21 Schools, Wood County Wisconsin, August 31-November 29, 2020,” January 29, 2021
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Science Brief: SARS-CoV-2 and Surface (Fomite) Transmission for Indoor Community Environments,” April 5, 2021.
Western New York Students First Members,
There are currently two bills in the New York State legislature that are advocating for a return to full time instruction after the Spring break. These bills, A6571 and S5718, are sponsored by state senator Ed Rath and assemblyman David DiPietro. Their wording is very similar, and I encourage you to read them if you have time. Many state legislators support this legislation, but right now they are not even scheduled for a vote. Below is a quote from Ed Rath on the importance of a resumption of in-person learning as an option for students.
“While some counties and school districts have made spacing adjustments on their own, a
unified approach is necessary. Additionally, it has been seen in other areas of the United States
that bringing back students does not contribute to significant community spread. I have also met
with the New York State American Academy of Pediatrics, who shared their support of this
Your action items:
"Hello, my name is <first and last> and I am calling as a member of Western New York Students First. I am a voter in <assembly member or senator>'s district.
Our schools have been shut down to full time, in person learning for over a year. My children, and the children in our community, are suffering from a loss of education as well as the mental health burdens of isolation.
My children's education is my primary focus as a voter right now. There are two bills in committee in Albany to relax distancing guidelines and allow students to resume full time instruction. Does <assemblymember or senator> support bills A6571 and S5718?"
Dr. Gale R. Burstein
Commissioner of Health
Erie County Department of Health
95 Franklin Street
Buffalo, NY 14202
We are writing to express our profound concern with the decision by the ECDOH to recommend that the Depew Middle School shift to remote learning.
By using “recommendations” to school districts and not following the science regarding transmission in schools, the ECDOH school epidemiology team is effectively forcing schools to close arbitrarily rather than simply quarantining kids with COVID-19 and their close contacts. This represents a potential abuse of power and reflects what we believe to be a growing conflict of interest between the community and the ECDOH.
In a statement, the ECDOH noted that the “school epidemiology team has not found evidence of in-classroom transmission.” In other words, all of these cases were the result of transmission in the community outside of school. Furthermore, the ECDOH has provided very little evidence of transmission in Western New York schools when masks were used, which is consistent with the growing body of scientific research that definitively shows that schools are safe when masks are used properly.
Since the cases in Depew were not the result of in-school transmission, and because the data shows that the risk of transmission in schools is extremely low when masks are used, there is absolutely no scientific basis for the “recommendation” to go fully remote.
In fact, by forcing children back into the community, where masks are used less frequently and where adults are less likely to have been vaccinated than teachers, your “recommendation” actually increases the risk of transmission between kids and for the broader community.
And, by moving back to remote, you are doing more harm to those children in Depew that have been forced to learn via remote or hybrid instruction for over a year now, not that the ECDOH cares much about that health risk these days.
It seems clear that you have been advised by counsel to tell the public and the media that the ECDOH does not set school reopening guidelines, the State does, and that the only role that the ECDOH plays in the process is testing, tracing, and quarantining students and staff.
This is blatantly not true. Through its “recommendations,” the ECDOH has been permitted to create politically motivated policies outside of the normal political process, that do not comply with current NYSDOH guidelines, do not slow the spread of Covid-19, and have been proven to harm children.
As you know, it is extremely difficult for school districts to ignore the “recommendations” of the County Health Commissioner, even when those “recommendations” run counter to the science and the existing NYSDOH guidelines – as they do currently.
Your “recommendations” have put school boards in a very difficult position. They have to either ignore your “recommendations” or ignore the fact that the ECDOH “recommendations” have no scientific basis, contradict the NYSDOH guidance, and, worst of all, harm children.
The implied power of your “recommendations” represents a potential legal overreach that needs to be addressed immediately by the County and the State. What prevents the ECDOH from issuing baseless “recommendations” in the future on other health issues, which effectively take away the rights of one group of people and only serve political purposes? If this overreach is not addressed now, it may create a very dangerous precedent, particularly considering that you are not an elected official.
With these important considerations in mind, WNY Students First is pleading with County Executive Poloncarz and the Erie County Legislature to either limit the authority of the ECDOH or eliminate the school epidemiology team altogether on the grounds that it is not following the science, it is not providing transparency regarding in-school transmission, it is misleading the public with respect to the safety of our schools, it is abusing its powers by using “recommendations” as a means of setting policy, it is not following NYSDOH guidance, and it is harming children in Erie County.
In fact, we believe that the overzealous and potentially illegal actions of the ECDOH school epidemiology team may reflect a growing conflict of interest between residents and the County since transmission rates in schools are so low and the misallocation of funds within the ECDOH, by focusing so much on schools as opposed to more meaningful sources of transmission, is becoming more obvious.
The role of the ECDOH in the school reopening process should be limited to what you have stated publicly and to what you are legally entitled – to test, trace, and quarantine. Anything beyond that represents a potential abuse of power.
Please stop playing politics with the health of our children and please stop using the implicit power in your “recommendations” to deny children their right to an in-person education by preventing schools in Erie County from reopening safely and fully this spring.
WNY Students First
cc: Mark C. Poloncarz
Erie County Superintendents
Erie County Legislature
New York State Association of Counties
New York State Association of County Health Officials
March 24, 2021
Dr. Gale R. Burstein
Commissioner of Health
Erie County Department of Health
95 Franklin Street
Buffalo, NY 14202
WNY Students First strongly condemns your continued effort to mislead the public regarding the safety of schools, the severe health consequences of remote/hybrid instruction on children, and the role of the ECDOH in allowing schools in Erie County to reopen.
These efforts are anti-science, anti-children, and anti-education.
WNY Students First is demanding more honesty and transparency from you and Mr. Poloncarz on these critical issues.
Specifically, WNY Students First is asking you and Mr. Poloncarz to:
Provide Data Regarding In-School Transmission. The ECDOH has denied repeated requests to provide data on transmission rates in schools. Instead, you and Mr. Poloncarz continue to cite cases in schools, almost all of which were not transmitted in schools, and anecdotes in an attempt to defend your flawed approach toward schools and children. These efforts are intentionally misleading the public regarding the safety of schools and contradict the legitimate scientific reports from the CDC, the World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics, Harvard University, and the Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases. Their research shows that the risk of transmission in schools is extremely, extremely low when masks are used properly at down to three feet of spacing. To suggest otherwise is misleading and detrimental. Of course, the risk of transmission in schools is not zero, but it isn’t far from it either. The point is not that there isn’t any risk (if that were the standard, we wouldn’t allow kids to ever attend school, get in a car, or do anything outdoors), it is that the health risks associated with closing schools are far greater than any perceived benefit of keeping schools closed. The science is clear at this point. Is it too much to ask our public health experts to follow that science, be transparent, and help educate the public regarding the safety of schools?
Address the Health Consequences of Remote/Hybrid Learning on Children. Pediatricians across the county are sounding the alarm on the devastating impact that remote learning is having on children. Doctors in Western New York recently published a statement in The Buffalo News citing the harmful effects that prolonged school closures are having on students. As the Health Commissioner, and as a pediatrician, it is unconscionable that you would continue to ignore this growing health crisis in our community, particularly since you have contributed to this problem.
Tell the Truth Regarding the County’s Role in Allowing Schools to Reopen. Beth Garvey, Senior Counsel and Senior Advisor to Governor Cuomo stated this week that “a local district could do less than six feet, provided that physical barriers are in place between students.” This is consistent with the current NYSDOH guidance which allows schools to reopen “at six feet of space in all directions between individuals or use of appropriate physical barriers between individuals.” It is this guidance that several counties in New York State have used to allow schools to reopen fully at less than six feet of social distancing between students with the use of masks and barriers. Either you and Mr. Poloncarz are lying to the public or Governor Cuomo is lying. Students and families, who have suffered needlessly from a lack of in-person education for over a year now, deserve an honest answer to this question. Our government officials need to be held accountable for this decision.
It isn’t too late to help. Every day matters for our kids.
Please choose science over fear, transparency over misinformation, and the health of our children over politics.
WNY Students First
cc: Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor of New York State
Erie County Superintendents
Erie County Legislature
Howard A. Zucker, Commissioner of Health for New York State
Mark C. Poloncarz, Erie County Executive
New York Association of Counties
New York State Association of County Health Officials
WNY Students First believes that the updated guidance regarding social distancing in schools from the CDC is a step in the right direction. The new guidance reflects the importance of in-person instruction for the education and health of children as well as the latest scientific research which shows that there is very little transmission in schools when masks are used and students are separated by three feet.
However, the CDC guidance is only relevant to the extent that the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) updates its guidance to allow schools to reopen with three feet of social distancing, and county public health departments and school boards follow any new State guidelines to open schools fully. Indeed, more work is needed to help open schools this spring and return children back to the safest environment possible – the classroom.
Below is a summary of the actions that WNY Students First would like to see taken over the next few days in order to help schools reopen fully and safely in the coming weeks.
New York State Department of Health
County Executives & Health Commissioners
School Boards & Superintendents
WNY Students First is calling on our leaders at all levels, State, County, and local, to follow the science and work together to fully and safely reopen schools as soon as possible this spring.
WNY Students First