Schools ask for an ‘exit strategy’ regarding COVID-19 mitigation measures

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Superintendents in Genesee and Orleans counties are asking Gov. Kathy Hochul directly for an exit strategy when it comes to easing COVID-19 restrictions in schools.

Superintendents in the Albion, Alexander, Batavia, Byron-Bergen, Elba, Holley, Kendall, LeRoy, Lyndonville, Medina, Oakfield-Alabama, Pavilion and Pembroke submitted a letter to the Governor on Tuesday asking her to develop “appropriate guidance for an exit strategy regarding all mitigation measures but not mandates” and requesting “local control be fully restored to our school districts to enable us to make decisions appropriate for our individual communities, in consultation with our local DOH.”

Pembroke Superintendent Matthew Calderon said his district was able to stay open for in-person learning throughout the 2020-2021 school year. Despite that, for the 2021-2022 school year, local control regarding universal masking and COVID testing was removed and “one-size-fits-all” mandates implemented by the state caused unnecessary challenges. “We put plans into place last year that worked effectively and then the beginning of the [new] year when a couple of mandates were put on the table for us, it caused some of us to go backwards,” Calderon said.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has been asked almost daily about what it will take for her to lift the mask mandate.

“I don’t just look at the numbers,” she said during a briefing on Tuesday, “I assess them intently, trends, as well as our vaccination rates in areas, as well as hospitalizations but before any decision is made, I’m going to continue having conversations with the heads of hospitals and continue our conversations with school superintendents that we’ve been having.”

“Leadership is difficult and the higher you go up, the more difficult it is to lead so, I recognize that Governor Hochul is a good person who wants to do what’s best and has a perspective on that and I also recognize you can line up one hundred people to look at the same data and you’ll get one hundred different conclusions,” Calderon said.

Calderon and his colleagues believe the best conclusions can now be made at the local level with the help of county health departments.

“We have a matrix depending on both county and school district data to determine what mediation measures we would put in place,” he explained.

A spokesman for the President of the Monroe County Council of School Superintendents tells News10NBC that they met on Tuesday and are aware of the letter from the superintendents in Genesee/Orleans counties and expect others to be issued statewide in the days to come. They’ve agreed, he says, to focus their efforts on developing specifics regarding what would need to be considered as we move toward that masking “off-ramp.”

The full letter is below:

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Office sent the following response:

"Governor Hochul and the Department of Health remain committed to doing everything possible to keep children, teachers and staff safe, and our schools open. As the Governor has done throughout the pandemic, we will continue working with superintendents, school leaders, and parents and guardians to monitor COVID rates and protect the health and safety of everyone in our schools.” From spokes

Please also see the following remarks from Governor Hochul on Jan. 25: “Now I am so looking forward to the day to say these are history, we don’t have to do this any longer. All of us are, I don’t want to keep any requirements for safety in place a day longer than necessary. But I will not do it a day before we can do it safely. And that is my commitment.”