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Testing, masking requirements create controversy at school board meeting

Sat, Oct 2nd 2021 10:00 am

By Alice E. Gerard

Erie County recently chose to abandon its strict guidelines concerning quarantining in favor of New York State Department of Health guidelines, according to School Superintendent Brian Graham, who spoke at the Sept. 27 meeting of the Grand Island Board of Education.

“The Erie County Department of Health has shifted to adopt the New York State Department of Health guidelines for close contact tracing,” Graham explained.

In addition, he discussed the new mandate that requires everyone in a school system to be tested weekly. “Those who are vaccinated can opt out. In our school district, we have 63 individuals who would qualify for being tested on a weekly basis. So, this past Friday was the first day that employees had to submit their COVID-19 test results. Or they can also submit an appointment that they’ve scheduled.”

At the public comment period during the meeting, bus driver Dee Dlugokinski, whose son is a senior in the high school, said she disagreed with the testing policy: “We are told that we have to provide our personal medical choices on the vaccine. We have to subject ourselves to weekly invasive COVID-19 testing. All employees can contract and spread COVID-19. If there is going to be testing of this sort, it has to be of all employees. Today, my dear friend from the bus garage was sent home to quarantine without pay for 10 days because was in contact with a fellow bus driver, fully vaccinated, and is sick with COVID-19. Two other bus drivers, who were in contact with that bus driver, were vaccinated – so they have no repercussions. How does this make sense to anyone?”

“I’m a dependable employee,” Dlugokinski said. “I have never called in sick in seven years. I have 55 Huth Road kids on my bus. I have a relationship with them and with all of their families. The thought of letting me go because I don’t want to do this is just obscene to me, especially with the bus driver shortage crisis in the entire country. We have good drivers. We need to keep them.”

Other speakers discussed the masking requirements. Jennifer Merica said, “Why are we masking our children? Mandates make no significant difference. Stop submitting our children to psychological and physical harm when there is no evidence that masks work. If masks do work, then why is any child required to quarantine?”

Colleen Cady Huff said, “There is a medical condition called mask mouth. It’s being recognized and it’s damaging children and adults. It is now considered to be an infection and it is being recognized in the medical field. So, for those out there who feel that we are helping our kids, we are really damaging them.”

According to Graham, “There are people in our community who would love it if the mask mandate – and it is a mandate – would go away, so that children could be unmasked in schools. The mandate is for every adult and every child, from UPK all of the way to grade 12. So, it is true, too, that there are children who have had the opportunity to be vaccinated if they are 12 years old or older. People expressing their opinion about COVID and how it impacts school. Last year, our children were only here a few days per week. At the time we opened school, we had to reduce the capacity of our schools, we had to reduce the number of people and have them sit 6 feet apart. That was the important piece, was that the state was saying that they had to sit 6 feet apart. But now, they only have to sit 3 feet apart. So, we can have everybody come to school.”

Returning to school full time has been a matter of adjusting and accommodating the changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic. Activities and sports have returned in a modified format, as the Grand Island Central School District continues to reopen.

Grand Island Senior High School Student Council President Payton Khadra spoke as the student ambassador.

“We are excited to return to some of our traditional activities,” Khadra said, who mentioned open house, Spirit Week, homecoming events, extracurricular clubs and activities, as well as sports teams. “Our sports teams are also having a great season. Both girls’ and boys’ soccer are undefeated, as well as girls’ tennis. Football is also ranked in the state.”

Upcoming events include a pep rally, which will be held “outside on the turf fiend.” The homecoming dance is scheduled for 7-9:30 p.m. Oct. 2, under a tent.

Graham said, “We are very proud of our new pep band. The pep band made its return to our bleachers. It was very exciting. Our kids did a great job. Bubba Thompson helped feed many hundreds of people at our football game. The chess club is back. Open house was outstanding. Sports are doing exceptionally well. We are very proud of our athletes. Today, I became aware that Faith Caldwell has shattered the school record in cross-country three times. It’s really remarkable. We are very blessed to see our students perform their talents and their skills during this pandemic.”

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