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