Several local superintendents provided an update on school closings in the Southern Tier area due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Things are changing by the minute … and we’re dancing as fast as we can,” said Scott Payne, district superintendent of Cattaraugus-Allegany BOCES, on Monday. “It’s unprecedented, I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Payne said the decision to close New York state schools in the area changed Sunday when it was learned there had been two coronavirus cases identified in Allegany County.

“In conversations with the Department of Health the decision was to close schools to non-essential personnel (Monday and Tuesday) so they can have deep cleaning occur,” Payne shared. “Once that is completed, the Departments of Health will continue to monitor the region.”

He said both Allegany and Cattaraugus county health departments will then let him know when the school districts will be allowed to bring back non-essential personnel, such as teachers, to prepare lessons and other materials to send or transmit to students.

“We’re encouraging everyone to think outside the box and keep people meaningfully engaged so we can provide the best efforts for our communities and students,” Payne continued.

He said the health departments have done well communicating with him during this emergency.

“I applaud their efforts, I imagine our departments of health are under siege,” he continued. “They have quite a few plates they’re spinning and they’re doing a great job helping us.”

Payne also noted the state Commissioner of Education asked for every school district to provide a food plan to ensure nutrition is reaching children while they’re at home.

“Our cafeteria staff and those that can help get food out to families are part of our essential staff, that we’re either mobilizing or are already in place,” he commented. “The food plans were essential — the governor has asked for (the districts’ food plans) and the commissioner has asked for those. Our districts have been phenomenal in providing those.”

At the Olean City School District, Superintendent Rick Moore said he appreciates the coordinating efforts of Payne over the past several days.

“He keeps us all going in the same direction,” Moore said of Payne.

Moore said the district had organized its deep cleaning efforts of the campuses Monday.

“We’re going to clean all of the buildings really, really well,” Moore said. “We’ll slowly bring back essential employees … for example we’re going to have to get our payroll people in and our nurses in. We also have to get our cafeteria people in soon because we’re going to attempt to provide meals” to students soon.

In addition, students in the Olean school district will receive instruction by the week of March 23 regarding study, tools and supplies for the duration of the closure. Staff will also be available through the duration of the closure to provide support to students.

“My message to people is that as best as possible, try to keep to a routine,” Moore advised parents and guardians. “Try to get up at the same time and eat your meals at the same time. Structure right now is gone, and I know with raising children, structure is everything.”

At Allegany-Limestone Central School District, Superintendent Tony Giannicchi said employees with the cleaning staff were at the schools early Monday conducting deep cleans in the facilities.

“The deep cleans have different rules provided by state guidelines,” he remarked. “When I walked in (early Monday) it smelled like disinfectant.”

He said lunch and breakfast for the following day will be packaged for all students in the district and delivered by the transportation department as soon as possible.

“We’re going to lay (the meal plan) out to our whole district and run our buses to the bus stops” with food, he explained. “If kids want to reserve a lunch and parents say they want to participate, we’re going to have the pick-up of lunches along their regular bus routes.”

Giannicchi said many of the schools in the Southern Tier encountered the challenges in coming up with meal plans, lessons and cleaning the campuses all in a hurried manner this weekend.

As for continued lessons for students, he said it is hoped they’ll be ready for students in the very near future.

“Teachers are planning some (online) platforms and they’re also planning the reinforcement of hard copy work or packets to go home,” Giannicchi stated. “Now the mission will be to get them to the kids and communicate with the kids.”

As with the meals, lessons can be provided to students.

“Or if the health department allows it and we have a soft (opening) where kids can come in small groups and get stuff, we’ll let them do that also,” he added. “We’re waiting to see what we’re allowed to do and what we’re not allowed to do — we’re making contingency plans for both.”

On a final note, Giannicchi said he encourages district residents to contact the school district with questions, and not rely on social media, during this crisis.

“If (parents) have a question, feel free to email or call and we’ll answer it that way as a direct source,” he concluded.

(Contact reporter Kate Day Sager at kates_th@yahoo.com. Follow her on Twitter, @OTHKate)

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