A lawsuit accusing management of Orleans/Niagara BOCES of lax enforcement of health and safety provisions in its COVID-19 reopening plans has been dismissed in New York State Supreme Court.
O/N BOCES Superintendent Clark Godshall, in a statement released by his office, said the court found that the BOCES Teachers Association has no private right to injunctive relief under New York Labor Law because review precedents were not fulfilled. Specifically, according to Godshall, a Public Employee Safety and Health (PESH) Bureau inspection has not occurred and the PESH Bureau has not determined or notified the state Department of Labor that there is imminent danger to the safety and/or health of employees.
"The Orleans/Niagara BOCES follows guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the New York State Education Department, the New York state and local health departments, and their medical advisers for COVID-19 protocols," Godshall said in his statement.
A BOCESTA spokesperson did not indicate whether the union planned to appeal the court's decision.
“As a union, we will never back away from our efforts to protect the health and safety of our members and the students they serve. We are aware of the decision and are reviewing our options," spokesperson Damien LaVera said.
In early October, the teachers' union filed suit against O/N BOCES and Godshall over what it described as failures of administration to adhere to COVID-19 protocols for social distancing, face covering, health screening, cleaning and disinfection for in-person learning at instructional sites within the district's coverage area. The union represents all professional certified personnel and has 241 active members.
The union claimed issues arose when BOCES sites reopened for in-person learning in September. The suit, filed in Orleans County State Supreme Court, accused the district of “widespread and blatant disregard of some of the most basic provisions of the reopening plan” while suggesting the situation “unnecessarily” exposed staff, students and visitors and their families to COVID-19. The suit came after the union filed a Public Employee Health and Safety (PESH) complaint against O/N BOCES with the state labor department over an alleged violation of school reopening guidelines set by the state health and education departments.
Godshall said last week that O/N BOCES has all of the necessary personal protective equipment for faculty members and has expended more than $330,000 to ensure that all of its sites are adequately supplied. In addition, he said BOCES reconfigured instructional class space to adhere to social distancing and facial mask requirements. Additional staff were hired as well, he said.
"We are following mandates that New York State continues to issue for schools to remain open," Godshall said. "We recognize the ongoing pandemic is stressful for all involved. We will continue to work diligently to implement and enforce our safety plans that make the physical, academic, social, and emotional well-being of all students, staff and families our top priorities."