Teachers at Buffalo Public seek answers on reopening

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) – Teachers at Buffalo Public Schools shared their concerns over reopening and asked district leadership reopening will work at the largest district in Western New York and one of the largest districts in all of New York State.

The roughly 90-minute session answered a wide-range of questions such as how testing for coronavirus will be handled in schools, how mask breaks will work, the district’s policy on teachers or their family members with a compromised immune system, the school curriculum, and what will happen to teachers and students if they are forced by New York State to quarantine for up to two weeks.

NOW: Buffalo Public Schools informing teachers via Facebook on what is happening this school year. Chief of Staff Darren Brown-Hall said there will be future meetings for teachers ahead of reopening. The next meeting could be as early as Friday. pic.twitter.com/MxLc2UuXVZ

— Mike Baggerman (@MikeBaggerman) August 18, 2020

Educators at Buffalo Public Schools are expected to return to work on September 1 for the first of three consecutive superintendent conference days. Teachers will set up their classrooms on September 4 with the first day of classes scheduled for September 8.

Rumore wants more information about how the buildings will be cleaned, how the curriculum will be implemented, and wants all of it in writing. Brown-Hall said it will be up to the district, the superintendent, and the board of education will have the responsibility to make the final decision.

“The teachers do not have a ‘vote’ on what the district does,” Brown-Hall said. “We have received information from the BTF that the teachers are requesting that we go completely virtual to start the school year. I’m sure the superintendent and board of education will take that into consideration when they make their decision, but they will be looking at parent request, data of our schools, and data of our students also, and what kind of COVID infection rates are in the City of Buffalo and the zip codes that service our schools.”

Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash was not in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting with teachers.

Below are some of the questions and answers during Tuesday’s session:

Will teachers be able to go into the classroom only for two or three days at a time for remote learning? Teachers will be able to do remote learning every day in their classroom if they want. We are in discussions right now to require that teachers come into the building two or three days per week in the classroom.

How will child care work on days we teach remotely? You will work it out with your building principal on days you are teaching remotely.

How will science labs work when classrooms are cut in half and how will the curriculum work? Those questions have been considered in the academic subcommittee and more information will come out in the coming weeks on all topics.

How will grading work? Grading will be like traditional grading. It will not look like it did with the spring regarding extra credit. There may be additional supports and the district is looking for feedback on the nuances.

How frequent will COVID testing be done? We cannot impose any testing on students or teachers. It is a requirement only imposed by the Erie County Department of Health. There is a flow chart on the district’s reopening plan (Page 121 of reopening plan). Nurses at the district cannot conduct a COVID-19 test. 

How will you track coronavirus cases in schools? We will work closely with the ECDOH to decide on closing classrooms or revert to a remote learning model.

If we start the year virtually, will staff be obligated to report to school? We will ask teachers to come to class two or three days per week.

Will gyms be used for classes? We will not have physical education in the building. It will be on days when students are doing remote learning. We’re also looking at using the gyms for lunches.

What are we doing about special education students? Our special education students are in self-contained classrooms and could return to the classrooms first because of the larger classrooms and can be socially distant with having teachers and staff there. We’re still looking at that.

How will plexiglass barriers be used? We will not use them. They were recommended for classrooms that cannot socially distant. We can have social distancing in our classrooms.

Will group tables be replaced with individual desks? We will have to look at that on a classroom-by-classroom basis. We will ensure all classrooms are socially distant.

How are we cleaning rooms that are shared by multiple teachers and students? We don’t recommend shared items such as calculators. We have to look at classrooms on a building-by-building basis.

How do we make sure kids wear masks and doesn’t taking them off defeat the purpose? NYSED guidance says we must issue mask breaks. We know that closer it gets to winter, the more difficult it will have mask breaks outside. We are going to talk to our medical directors for advice.

Who will take kids who are ill to the isolation room? We’re trying to prevent anyone from coming to school ill. That will be school specific with administrators.

How will academic diagnostic tests work for students at the start of the school year? We’re proposing the first couple of weeks to issue the tests to get an idea of where our students are and to address social and emotional concerns that students and teachers have. We will provide sample lessons our teachers can used and hygiene lessons.

What about teachers with compromised immune systems? Appendix H in the reopening handbook outlines this. We will take all precautions to minimize the risk of transmission. If there are teachers who are uncomfortable, please contact the HR department to request an accommodation.

Regarding sick time if we have to quarantine, will we have to take our own sick time or is it a workers compensation situation since it’s required? If it’s required, it will be required through the ECDOH quarantine. You will receive two weeks paid time if you are diagnosed with COVID-19 and quarantined. If you have an underlying health condition and feel unsafe about coming to work and asking not to go on a leave of absence, we are reviewing your situation. If you have someone at home who has an underlying condition, we cannot accommodate them. We can only assist those who are employees at Buffalo Public Schools, but you can take family medical leave, which is done at a semester at a time.

What happens when a student doesn’t wear a mask or refuses to wear one? There is a progressive discipline model which includes reminders, phone calls to parents, and time outs. We have to make sure parents are stressing the importance of mask wearing. We have to use progressive discipline.

If we are out for more than two weeks, will we have to use our own sick time? Yes. After two weeks, you will have to use your own sick time.

What if I have to quarantine a second time? We will need to investigate that.