By Karen Keefe
“It’s extremely deficient.”
That’s how Town Board Member Mike Madigan describes the Grand Island School District’s plan to bring only elementary students back to five days in classrooms on April 26.
Madigan offered as proof a quote from a letter that Superintendent Brian Graham and other area school superintendents wrote on March 12 to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“We know that the continuation of intermittent in-person school attendance represents a greater danger to the well-being of school-age children than does COVID-19,” said the letter from the Erie-Niagara School Superintendents Association.
“There is no scientific basis for continued partial closure of the schools,” Madigan said. Schools have been safely and fully opened elsewhere – across the state, the nation and Europe – despite having higher virus transmission rates than Erie County has, he said.
“So what are we doing? Why would we delay correcting immediately something that is putting our school age children at risk. It’s inexcusable.”
Because Erie County is designated as having a high COVID-19 transmission rate per 100,000 of population, Grand Island middle school and high school students would stay in a hybrid model that has them in classes at school only two days a week. The state Health Department has said teens are more at risk of COVID-19 transmission than younger students, unless they cohort, or travel to classes in small, closed groups.
A Grand Island parents group has sued the district, School Board, superintendent and the state to fully open schools. The Coalition of Grand Island Parents to Put Students First claims in its lawsuit that the hybrid learning model contributes to stress and severe mental health issues and poses a significant threat to a child’s normal growth and development.
The councilman invited top state, county and local officials to talk about fully opening the schools at a discussion during next week’s Town Board meeting at 6 p.m. Monday.
“They all need to get in one room. They need to say, ‘We have the data now. We have the facts. We know schools can be opened safely now,’ ” Madigan said.
“Private schools have been open safely all year long,” he pointed out. “When you’re talking about disadvantaged families – which includes on Grand Island, there’s some – that cannot afford private schools, which many kids of well-off parents are fleeing to.”
He said other well-off parents are hiring tutors for their kids to fill the gaps that the hybrid model of learning creates in its combination of virtual and in-person learning.
He said the kids whose parents can’t afford private schools or tutors are suffering needlessly under a learning style that until now didn’t even include livestreamed teaching for most – just prerecorded education. That would change effective April 26, when middle school and high school kids will all get synchronous, livestreamed lessons on the off days when they are not in class.
“Students weren’t the first consideration for the teachers,” Madigan said. He claims that teachers who did livestream their lessons got a stipend for doing that, while livestreaming was the standard method across the board in districts all around Grand Island.
Madigan said Graham should show the leadership to bring back all students at all levels to a full five days in classrooms, whether it puts his job in jeopardy or not.
In his invitation to officials, Madigan closes his letter this plea to Graham: “Discuss options – can you and the School Board of Grand Island take action? What is preventing you from acting when you know children are being harmed?
“As you know some superintendents across New York state have or are fully opening – it can be done.
“Attorneys for the parents determined nothing prevents a superintendent from opening schools immediately. The state directives that some claim is keeping some schools closed expired Sept. 4 and has not been renewed.”
Madigan addresses of all the officials invited to Monday’s Town Board meeting: “The Town of Grand Island government was elected to represent and look out for the best interests of all of its constituents just like all of you were either elected or appointed to do the same.
“We ask for you to attend this open public meeting and update us on what you are doing to immediately resolve the mental health and education crises being created by not fully opening schools.”