Buffalo parents share concerns about return to school

BUFFALO (WBEN) - As school reopening plans emerge and questions and concerns swirl over student safety, a group of parent leaders within the Buffalo School District are demanding more involvement in the plans, and feel largely ignored during the process.

"We are here today to make sure that we are aligning public health and public education, and that the voices of parents, students and community are fully heard as we make plans for district reopening and what a school year looks like in a year that we have never experienced anything like before," said Jessica Bauer Walker,  who serves as president of BPS Community Health Worker Parent Association. 

While superintendent office Chief of Staff Darren Brown-Hall committed to giving parents, students and the community a larger voice in the coming month, parents and the teachers' union also laid out specific concerns they have with the reopening plans.

"There's just a lack of specificity; there's concern about having two days, three days, having that kind of a schedule...there's concern about how do parents plan for daycare," said Buffalo Teachers' Federation President Phil Rumore, who noted that he has already received a ton of feedback from teachers after the reopening plans were released last Friday.

When pressed on examples of lack of specificity in the plans, Rumore pointed to confusion on how proper sanitation of the facilities will be completed.

"One of the major concerns that we have is the sanitization of the buildings, and it isn't clear as to who's going to do it, when it's going to be done, how it's going to be done, the chemicals that are going to be used, etc.," he said.

Throughout the pandemic, going back to the end of the previous school year, there has been concern that students with special needs have been marginalized. Edward Speidel is one such parent who believes the reopening plans don't do enough to address the issues his children face.

"Being a parent of two children with autism, this plan does nothing for their education starting in September," said Speidel. "My children need to be in school - it's a disaster, so unless we can fix that, I will not be sending my children to school, I will be seeking legal help to get my kids in school.

"Since March 13, I've been demanding an in-person IEP meeting, which the district has restricted me from doing," he continued. "In the plan, it's saying I can meet with the teacher and everybody else can meet remotely. I will say, if we can have this press conference, we can have eight people meet in a room or in a park, and we can talk about what's best for my children, so special needs kids are being left behind with this plan."

For these reasons, as well as the diverse concerns that each individual family may have, Bauer Walker is imploring the district to sit down and listen.

"We have to hear from our families and our communities that may not have had their voices heard thus far in the process, and have community and cultural responsive approaches where we get all folks to the table," she began. "What is it like for a grandparent taking care of their child? How are they more at risk? What is it like for single parents and working parents to have to deal with different types of models? What is it like for our multi-lingual families and our special education families? So, again, we need all those voices to the table, participating in decision making."

Listen to the full press conference below: