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Buffalo Public Schools seeks phased reopening; parent groups say they were excluded

The Buffalo Public Schools released its reopening plans just hours before the Saturday deadline, asking the state to allow a phased reopening.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Buffalo Public Schools released a "working draft" of its return-to-school plans on Friday night.

The draft included a phased approach the district would like to take, if given permission from New York State.

All school districts were given a Saturday deadline for at least a rough draft of plans to be sent to the State Department of Education.

In appendix B of the reopening plans, the district requests that the state allow each district to make its own decisions about how it will reopen, using a plan that best suits them at that time.

This could include a remote, hybrid or full return. Then the district would create its backup plan as they move through the year. 

BPS believes its best approach for its situation would be a phased reopening. The first two phases do not describe how long they would take, and the schools wouldn't reopen in any fashion until phase three, which would in itself last six weeks.

But now parents are fighting back, saying they were left out of the process.

In a statement, several parent groups say that BPS reopening committee convened in early June and assured parent leaders that families would be engaged in the process.

However, the committee did not re-convene until tow weeks before the plans were due, according to the parent groups.

"It seems the District invited us to be a part of the re-opening process to merely ‘check a box’ for parent involvement. We will not be silent when it comes to health, safety and education of our children. We urge NYSED to reject any plan that did not reflect the voice of parents and students,” said Jessica Bauer Walker, President of the BPS CHW Parent Association.

The parent groups represented in the statement include The District Parent Coordinating Council (DPCC), Special Education Parent Advisory Committee (SEPAC), and Community Health Worker Parent Association (CHWPA). 

"Data from a survey to receive family input was not shared to inform decision-making; and despite a promise of a public meeting the week of July 27th to allow for family and community input, no such meeting was held.  Only an outline of a plan was shared on July 20th. Despite multiple requests from parent leaders, no subsequent drafts or a final plan was shared with the re-opening committee or the public before the July 31st deadline to submit to NYSED," the statement read in part.

The release of the plan also comes a day after Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore called for the removal of all administrators involved in the creation of the return-to-school plans. Rumore called the process of creating the plan “shrouded in secrecy.”

The Buffalo Teachers Federation also called for an extension in submitting the plan just two days ago.

“Life is the most precious gift we have been given. This plan is flexible and open to the community for continuous improvement. It represents a respect for balance between uncompromising safety for our staff and students and the need for children to advance their academic and social‐emotional growth," Dr. Kriner Cash wrote in the reopening plan.

"If we stay united, supportive of each other, genuinely committed to the safety and health of others, we will go far in restoring the stability of schooling all children need now more than ever,” Cash added, in the reopening plan.

The district's proposed phased reopening, which is also detailed in appendix B is summarized below:

Phase 1: School personnel would work together and receive training to prepare for school, in the model(s) the district and local association decide is a best fit (remote, hybrid or full return). This time would also be used to create safety measures, arranging spaces, training safety protocols, developing the curriculum and more. 

Phase 2: Educators would be able to meet with students and families either remotely or in-person (if it is safe enough at that time). The district says these meetings would help prepare students and families for return-to-school, the new changes, and could be a check up of the needs of the student (emotionally, academically, technology-wise, etc). 

Phase 3: Instruction would resume. This could happen either remotely, in a hybrid fashion or be a full return to school. The district emphasized that this time will be important to determine curriculum and instruction decisions, and that test prep and test administration "should  be avoided  for  the  near  future, as  these will  distract  from  deep  substantive learning, cause unneeded stress, and produce results that may not tell us what students need and can do."

Phase 4: After six to eight weeks of school, the district will assess public health data and educational progress from the first few weeks of school. Next steps would then be decided.

You can view the entire working draft of the plan below: