COVID taking toll on area schools


Increasing COVID-19 rates and infections are affecting area school districts within Erie County, near its border and in southern Chautauqua County. Southwestern, Gowanda, Westfield and Silver Creek schools have all announced temporary plans for certain grade-levels or all students to go to a remote system.

Silver Creek’s pivot comes after a pair of transportation department workers tested positive, forcing the rest of the staff to quarantine. “The county Health Department has conducted their contact tracing and has advised that other members of our Transportation Department quarantine, leaving us understaffed and barely to transport effectively,” the district announced on its Facebook page.

In addition, another middle school student was positive. “To that end, we are making the decision to transition the entire district to a fully remote learning model for next Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 23 and 24. These two days, combined with Thanksgiving recess, will allow approximately nine days of space, distance, and separation for all staff and students. We plan to resume in-person learning on Monday, Nov. 30. I wanted to make this announcement this afternoon so that we could adequately inform students/families so appropriate child-care arrangements can be made for next Monday and Tuesday.”

In Gowanda, Superintendent Dr. Robert Anderson said a remote model that begins Nov. 30 applies to all except for self-contained classrooms and select programs that are off campus in non-designated areas. “I make this decision with a heavy heart,” he wrote. “We have done all in our power to keep students and each other safe over these past several months. I am incredibly proud of all of you. The best and safest place for students is at school, but there are circumstances happening outside of our immediate control.”

Anderson noted the continuing woes in Erie County. “The rate of community spread in Western New York and locally is accelerating. One half of our district is in a designated yellow-zone and if trends continue, I would suspect the other half will be soon,” he said. “After discussing with the board in public (Wednesday) night, the board felt that we should be proactive in our response to help ensure safety and reduce community spread.

“This is unlike our spring closure. We are not closed, just moving to a new model. I expect to be back in the hybrid model as soon as possible when our regional metrics allow us to be back. I am hoping to return to hybrid on Jan. 4, but the next several weeks will determine the actual return to hybrid. These are tough times that are challenging for all. I understand. Stay strong, be brave, and look out for each other.”

Classroom instruction for elementary students within the Westfield Academy and Central School District will be remote through Tuesday, Superintendent Michael Cipolla announced. An elementary employee tested positive for COVID-19 and was last at school Nov. 13.

“We are working closely with the Chautauqua County Health Department to complete contact tracing,” Cipolla said. “Any close contacts will be notified and appropriate steps will be taken. … It is our intention to resume in-person learning on Nov. 30. Please know the change to move to remote instruction is due to staffing levels. This provides an opportunity to carefully manage the situation. If any unforeseen factors arise that prevent us from returning on Nov. 30 we will contact you immediately.”

Meanwhile, Southwestern Central School will go to remote learning Friday, Monday and Tuesday due to students and staff in quarantine within the community.

“We received word today of additional staff that are required to quarantine,” said Southwestern Superintendent Maureen Donahue. “As a direct result of staffing concerns and for precautionary reasons we will pivot to full remote for three days. We will be full remote Friday, Nov. 20, Monday, Nov. 23, and Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020.”

In addition, the Jamestown Public Schools District announced that a high school student tested positive for the coronavirus. The student last attended school Friday, Nov. 13. Because the student had been attending off-site at the time of diagnosis, the county Health Department advised that no in-school contact tracing was required.

The Chautauqua County Department of Health reported 36 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, in addition to 155 active cases of the coronavirus.

Since last Friday, the county has reported 140 new cases of the virus.

The new cases break down as follows: eight in the Jamestown zip code, three in Silver Creek, four in Westfield, two in Clymer, five in Fredonia, two in Frewsburg, four in Dunkirk and one each in Panama, Sinclairville, Mayville, Bemus Point, Forestville, Cherry Creek, Falconer and Cassadaga.

There remains 12 people with COVID-19 in the hospital as of Tuesday, according to the most recent data available, in addition to 1,258 recoveries, 16 deaths and 1,429 total confirmed cases.

In Cattaraugus County, 42 new cases were reported Wednesday evening, marking 727 total cases to date. The county Health Department also reported 207 active cases, 497 total recoveries, 10 hospitalizations and 23 deaths.


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