Rush-Henrietta superintendent says county 'unexpectedly backtracked' its support for more fully reopened schools

Updated: March 24, 2021 06:54 PM
Created: March 24, 2021 12:43 PM

HENRIETTA, N.Y. (WHEC) — Rush-Henrietta School District Superintendent Bo Wright says the Monroe County Department of Health has " unexpectedly backtracked" in its support for schools to reopen "more fully."

In a letter to parents Wednesday, Wright says Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza told superintendents the county would not support a school's plan if it has not been approved by the state.

"The State Health Department is who ultimately needs to change the guidance to allow the schools to then be able to adopt the CDC guidelines, which is what I would endorse, but right now we have not yet heard anything from the state health department in that regard, so all of the superintendents are waiting just like everybody else is," Mendoza said.

Wright called the change "extremely frustrating" and said the state's department of health has been "silent" on the topic. He added the district will continue with hybrid learning four days a week, with April 19 as a potential starting date.

The Spencerport School District says it is monitoring reopening metrics and waiting for an update from health officials after reportedly learning Monroe County schools are designated as an area of "high community transmission."

The district plans to allow students in grades 6-12 back in class, but, in an open letter to parents Wednesday, the district said it learned from the county's Department of Public Health and Mendoza that districts have been advised to stick to the CDC guidance specific to high transmission areas, which are marked as "Red Zones."

Wright's letter did not mention metrics.

The CDC determines its zones by the total new COVID 19 cases per 100,000 persons in the last seven days. Per the CDC's tracker, Monroe County has had 956 new cases in seven days, which factors out to be 128.88 cases per 100,000 people.

According to Spencerport, this means schools will have to maintain six feet of physical distancing versus the three feet now approved by the CDC. District officials say it does not have the room to bring back students with six feet of distancing, calling it "disappointing news."

While the district monitors the numbers, it says it is moving back furniture, working on bus routes, and food supplies for cafeterias. As we've reported, other districts are planning to reopen at three feet.

Spencerport says once guidance changes and the rates decrease out of a Red Zone, the district will return its secondary students "quickly" with a date to be determined. News10NBC reached out to Spencerport for further comment, which was declined. 

"Everyone wants to pound on the doctors like, 'You just changed your mind again, you just changed your mind again!'" Sherry Johnson, executive director of the Monroe County School Board Association, said. "Um, again I think what we have to understand is that in a health crisis and that's what this is, you're going to get information that's going to change rather quickly."

In a statement to News10NBC, a spokesperson for the Monroe County Department of Health says "to claim that Dr. Mendoza has 'unexpectedly backtracked' is patently false."

"On Friday, Dr. Michael Mendoza endorsed new CDC guidance outlining a pathway for schools to reopen fully based on new scientific evidence regarding physical distancing and other factors. The updated CDC guidance clarified the role of community transmission levels in making reopening decisions. Dr. Mendoza made it very clear that, while he endorses the full CDC guidance, he does not have the authority to give the greenlight for schools to follow it. As he has repeatedly stated, reopening decisions must be decided between New York State and the superintendents. This is according to New York State law. Also on Friday, Dr. Mendoza joined the County Executive in sending correspondence to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Health Commissioner Howard Zucker urging them to adopt the CDC guidance in full. Monroe County continues to wait for a response. To claim that Dr. Mendoza has “unexpectedly backtracked” is patently false."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not provide an update on reopening schools during his press conference on Wednesday.

Read Wright's letter in its entirety below.

Letter to Rush-Henrietta co... by News10NBC

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