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New COVID guidance, requirements for schools issued by New York State

Unvaccinated teachers and staff members will be required to get tested for COVID each week.

WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. — As more kids get ready to go back to school next week, the state has issued new guidance for what this school year will look like.

All staff members who are not fully vaccinated will have to get tested for COVID-19 every week.

All of the guidance applies to all public and private Pre-K through 12 schools in the state. The only exceptions are standalone Pre-K schools where there are no older kids.

Unvaccinated teachers and staff are required to get tested once a week if the school is in a community with low through high transmission rates. And schools are also required to offer screening testing to students once a week with a parent or guardian's permission in places with moderate, substantial, or high transmission rates.

Dr. Darren Brown-Hall, the Superintendent of Williamsville Central Schools, says he is on board with the testing and explained a bit about how it will work.

"The thing is, what we're going to do is work with the Erie County Department of Health because that is what the guidance will say that we're going to work with our local department of health to see how we're going to operationalize that," says Dr. Darren J. Brown-Hall, Superintendent of Williamsville Central Schools.

The testing requirement also applies to bus drivers, and you do have to wear masks on buses. That goes for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

Millions of dollars in federal funding is expected to minimize any costs to local health departments and schools.

As far as social distancing goes, a distance of at least three feet is strongly recommended between all students, and at least six feet is recommended between students and teachers and staff, and between teachers and staff who are not fully vaccinated.

The state heard from school officials, union leaders, and other education advocates before coming up with this guidance.

"Once all kids are back in the school building, a lot of people want to think, 'OK, we're back to normal.' We certainly are not, so there are many strategies that we still have to keep in place to reduce the spread of COVID," Dr. Brown-Hall said.

The state's guidance also says about the testing requirements, "Entities that violate this section are subject to a maximum fine of $1,000 for each violation."

The mask requirements were announced last week. The Williamsville Superintendent told us what happens if a parent doesn't want their child to wear a mask at school.

"Their only other option is to home school because we are in a masking environment and we have to not only for the protection of their kids, but the protection of all students and teachers also, right? So we absolutely have to enforce that," says Dr. Brown-Hall.

Dr. Brown-Hall says if your child needs a medical accommodation for the masks in Williamsville Central Schools, you can contact the district to figure what to do on a case-by-case basis.

2 On Your Side contacted the Governor's Office on Friday to get more information about funding for the testing and how the logistics will work. A spokesperson for the New York State Department of Health said the regulation, "does not specify funding options for testing unvaccinated school staff and, rather, encourages districts to continue working with their local health departments on testing." 

They also told us that New York State received $335 million to use for all of the guidance related issues, including the testing. 

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