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New York school districts adjust to extended state PAUSE order

Superintendents say one of the biggest challenges they've had to overcome is the digital divide among students.

NEW YORK — Last week the governor officially extended New York's PAUSE order until May 15. That means, in addition to other social distancing restrictions, schools remain closed.

2 On Your Side spoke to the superintendents of the Niagara Falls City School District and the Salamanca City Central School District.

Both said one of the biggest challenges they've had to overcome is the digital divide among students.

"We struggle in the Southern Tier, as do many parts of the state, with a digital poverty that makes an online platform challenging at the very least," said Robert Breidenstein, the superintendent of the Salamanca City School District.

By adding hot spots and other technical support, they've been able to persevere. 

However, as it inches closer to mid-May, there could be additional obstacles.

Mark Laurrie, the superintendent of the Niagara Falls City School District, said, "I can think of ways where we could have kids in school and have very limited movement. What I can't fathom how we would do, is transport 5,000 students from their home to school. I can't see how we could do that and still keep the proper social distancing."

Ultimately, the decision as to whether schools reopen this academic year lies with the state. 

"We can add our input, we can make our suggestions, but we're really at the decision-making of the governor at this point, in order for us to meet that 180-day requirement, in order for us to get our full state aid," Laurrie said.


Breidenstein added, "If they say we'll be open, we'll mobilize just as we did when we had to shut down, and as soon as we can get students and staff back safely, I think that's the primary concern of everyone." 

There's also the question of end-of-year milestones, which both superintendents said they're already planning for.

"We're starting to talk to our students about graduation and what that could look like virtually or in some other fashion," Laurrie said. 

Added BreidensteinL "All across the state and across the country we will find ways to celebrate those successes. It will certainly look different, but we will find time to celebrate and we think that that's positive and therapeutic for everyone in dealing with these very uncertain times."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo talked about the subject during a daily coronavirus briefing.

"I have many school districts in the state, over 700 school districts. They're calling saying they want to open up their local schools. They want to make these decisions," Cuomo said. "The state's emergency powers now govern in this emergency. Blame me. Blame me.

"Somebody's complaining about a beach. Somebody's complaining about whatever, businesses open, schools open, blame me. It's true. It's right. It's the state law, and I don't have any issue with that."

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