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McMahon: Hybrid school reopenings could cause child care crisis

WRVO Public Media File Photo

State officials will spend this week reviewing school district plans for reopening this fall in the midst of a global pandemic. Most school districts in central New York have decided on a hybrid model that alternates in-person and remote learning.

But Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon fears those kinds of models will create other problems in the long run. McMahon’s biggest question about proposals is who will watch the kids? He believes a hybrid plan, that brings in elementary aged kids 2 or 3 days a week, and requires remote learning on others, will lead to a day care crisis, as well as other issues for working families.

"I get it’s tough," McMahon said. "But we can’t have a situation where learning how to live with one public health crisis, turns into another public health crisis."

McMahon would like to see all younger kids getting in-person learning five days a week. That opinion is based solely on the county’s COVID data, he said. Onondaga County continues to have an infection rate below 1%, and one of the lowest re-infection rates in the country.

He also said younger children are the least likely to be affected by COVID-19, noting only one death in Onondaga County in a person under 50. 95-98% of all deaths involve individuals with pre-existing conditions, most of them over 70 years old.

McMahon admits that may not comfort parents or teachers concerned about kids together in school buildings, and he suggests districts have plans for staff or teachers with pre-existing conditions. He insists fear can’t let districts ignore ripple effects of hybrid learning plans.

"I get it. They’re having to do something they’ve never had to do," he said. But they’re looking through their lens, of their operation. Not the community-at-large and you can’t act like that in a pandemic. You have to look at how it impacts everything.

Gov. Cuomo Sunday said ultimately, it will be up to parents to decide if schools are safe enough for their kids.

"If the parents don't feel comfortable, they're not going to send their children," Cuomo told reporters during a telephone briefing. "And we'll accomplish nothing if we open the schools but a significant number of parents decide to keep their children home."

School districts, especially larger ones, are trying to conform with state regulations that, among other things, stipulate how far apart children should be in a classroom, creating difficult decisions about how to make a school building safe.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.