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Orleans-Niagara BOCES Teachers’ Association Sues O/N BOCES Over Covid-19 Health & Safety Issues - Teachers Union Lawsuit Seeks Court Order To Force BOCES To Follow Its Own Reopening Plan, Guidance From Public Health Officials

Published Monday, October 12, 2020
by Labor News Services
Orleans-Niagara BOCES Teachers’ Association Sues O/N BOCES Over Covid-19 Health & Safety Issues - Teachers Union Lawsuit Seeks Court Order To Force BOCES To Follow Its Own Reopening Plan, Guidance From Public Health Officials

(MEDINA, NEW YORK) - The Orleans-Niagara BOCES Teachers’ Association (BOCESTA) has filed a lawsuit against Orleans/Niagara BOCES (O/N BOCES) and Superintendent Clark Godshall, calling for a court to mandate that O/N BOCES adhere to and enforce provisions in its own reopening plan intended to protect the health and safety of students and Staff. 

Specifically, the Union cited issues with social distancing, the lack of face coverings, cleaning and disinfecting protocols, health screenings and proper training, among other issues that have arisen since O/N BOCES re-opened for in-person learning in September. 

The lawsuit, filed in Orleans County State Supreme Court, notes “the widespread and blatant disregard of some of the most basic provisions of the reopening plan unnecessarily exposes Staff, students and visitors and their families to Covid-19.”

The filing comes after BOCESTA filed a Public Employee Health and Safety (PESH) complaint against O/N BOCES with the state Department of Labor over BOCES’s violation of state Department of Health and state Department of Education Covid-19 School Reopening Guidelines. 

“BOCES Teachers and Staff are committed to delivering a high-quality education to our students in the safest environment possible, ‘but clearly BOCES itself isn’t willing to make the same commitments to the health and safety of everyone in our buildings,’” Orleans-Niagara BOCES Teachers’ Association President Deborah Hillburn said. “BOCES leadership ‘had months to prepare to get this right.’  But a lawsuit ‘unfortunately is our next step.’  ‘We will not apologize for advocating for the safest possible environment for every student, Staff Member and family in our community.’”

While the O/N BOCES reopening plan includes provisions, such as rooms set up with six feet of social distancing, the use of face coverings and other basic health and safety procedures, BOCESTA charges that in reality BOCES is violating numerous protocols detailed in its own plan.

Violations Include: Crammed classrooms with no social distancing; Dozens of BOCESTA Members reported in a survey there is not six feet of distancing in their classrooms, with some saying students are “crammed” into classrooms with student and staff desks as little as two feet apart; Insufficient enforcement of face coverings guidelines and a lack of physical space or other measures recommended by health officials to safely interact with students who have been medically exempt from wearing face coverings: Insufficient cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch areas; and Lax enforcement of the completion of health screenings. 

“O/N BOCES is exposing BOCESTA Members, Staff and students to recognized hazards related to contracting and spreading Covid-19,” Hillburn stated in her affidavit. “BOCESTA Members are committed to a successful reopening of O/N BOCES, but it must be done consistent with health and safety guidance issued by the NYSDOH and NYSED and the O/N BOCES’s own reopening plan.”

Orleans-Niagara BOCES Teachers’ Association represents all Professional-Certified Personnel and has 241 active Members within Orleans/Niagara BOCES.

A full copy of the lawsuit, along with accompanying affidavits, can be read here.

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