At least 100 students at City Honors High School walked out of class early Friday, in protest of planned teacher cuts at the Buffalo school.
Shortly after 1 p.m., when the seventh period ends at City Honors, small groups of students began leaving the building and gathered across the street on Fosdick Avenue. In short time, they became a large crowd who spread out along the sidewalk and intermittently chatted "save our teachers."
"It's to protest the fact that we don't have any information. It's to say that we should be involved in these decisions," said junior Zoe Crapsi. "It's to let administration know that they cannot take away our teachers without expecting some sort of repercussion."
What upsets the students, and other opponents of a planned move to transfer five teachers and cut hours for a guidance counselor, is that it's happening midway through a school year. The school district, which next week is expected to file a challenge to the Buffalo Teachers Federation's temporary restraining order blocking the teacher cuts, says it needs to relocate the instructors for budgetary reasons, to cover the cost of hiring 16 aides, as ordered by a court.
Some parents joined in the protest including Sarah Robert, who has two children enrolled at City Honors. She, too, complained about a lack of communication with school administrators.
"We have no access to our principal. The principal has sat down with a select few parents of children at the school but those parents were selected by the principal and the district to sit down," Robert said. "All of the questions they were to answer, we had to submit ahead of time. At this point, we just need to sit down as parents and talk about what's best for our kids. Right now, losing their teachers in the middle of a school year is not the best thing."
Earlier in the day, City Honors principal William Kresse addressed the students over the school's public address system. WBFO acquired a copy of his comments, which read as follows:
"CHS Students, I would ask that you take a moment to listen carefully with an open mind and open heart.
"I have received word from many students this morning that they are concerned that some of their classmates are planning to walk out of the school building during or at the end of seventh period. I believe the intent is to show their displeasure about the ongoing discussions between the school district and teachers’ union over teacher duties and potential staff reductions at the school.
"First, I want to let you know that I feel your concern. Over the years I have worked hard to grow our faculty to expand staffing in the arts, counseling and reduce class sizes. These are valuable employees and colleagues, and no one wants them here more than me.
"Secondly, I need to ask you not to do this. While intentions are positive, it takes away from your teacher’s time to prepare for your classes, and causes a disruption to the students who are still engaged in the school learning environment. And we are concerned for your safety. Weather conditions will be freezing, and the wet pavement will have become icy.
"The two parties making the decisions on these matters are not here in the school. They are at City Hall, and they are at the teachers’ union headquarters at Porter Avenue. You have a right to express your opinion on this matter and have a right to be concerned, but disrupting our school does not get the message to the people who make the decisions. I always encourage you to be principled and risk takers, but I also want you to do it in a way that is effective, and civil.
"On Wednesday night at the school board meeting, we had courageous students who expressed their concerns about the potential loss of their teachers in a civil but eloquent fashion. These statements had a powerful impact and left a positive impression. Students encouraged both sides to find solutions and work things out. You should be as proud of those classmates as I am. Their passion and maturity was incredible. As a result, I think both the school board and the teachers’ federation understand how much damage could be created. I do not want to see the good work and positive messaging of your classmates tarnished.
"I understand there is a lot of information being thrown your way as a young person, both good and bad. I feel bad that I could not have protected you from the stresses of this issue. Some of you may even find yourself having to deal with adults encouraging you to disrupt the school environment. I am so sorry for this. You are kids and should be able to enjoy being a kid and the joy of learning and not have this on your shoulders. During this stressful time it is more important than ever to pull together, nurture each other and model kindness.
"Thank you for listening and considering."
Students attending the protest claimed they received threats of retribution, such as removal from roles in an upcoming school musical, if they left the building to demonstrate. Some parents also suggested their kids were facing the threat of some form of punishment.
"I will tell you, and I'm going to put this on record, I very much fear for my children. I fear for the retribution they will face as a result of these actions," Robert said.
Some students, though, stated they had no worries about punishment. While they did not speak to be interviewed, they said that external suspensions and failing grades must be reported to New York State. If there's one thing City Honors cares much about, they suggested, it's their reputation.