When Buffalo Public Schools open their new yearnext week with an all-virtual model, not all students' needs may be properly addressed. That was the sentiment of several parents speaking Tuesday morning.
Ed Spiedel, a parent and member of the Special Education Parent Advisory Committee, was among a half dozen speakers outside the former School 77, now the headquarters of PUSH Buffalo. He explained he has two children with special needs in Buffalo Public Schools. And he's worried about what the start of the new school will bring - and not bring - for his children.
"I've attempted to be part of the process. I've been here. I've been trying to support the school district in a plan to open. And then all of a sudden there's no plan to open. We have no plan. So my two sons are now lost. Virtual learning didn't work," he said, as he got emotional. "It's a disaster, like nobody cares."
Spiedel and others say with the Buffalo Public School District going to an all-virtual format to begin its year, buildings and critical services may be cut off to those who need it. In addition to children with special needs or disabilites, parents speaking Tuesday say there will also be problems for children wtih limited English proficiency and children living in poverty and unstable housing situations.
Stephanie Simeon, executive director of Heart of the City Neighborhoods and a school parent, noted that September 1 marks an eviction day for many struggling families. While evictions had been put on hold during the peak of the COVID pandemic in New York State, time's up for many families, just in time for the start of a different school year.
"One of the challenges is not only that the folks have been evicted, but if children do not have an active address, how are communications getting to parents? Because those addresses will no longer be in place," Simeon said. "The other issue is, where are we putting these folks that are being discharged? A lot of them are going to have to go to shelters, families are going to have to be separated because boys and girls can't be in the same shelter places. They have to be separated. Those places aren't equipped for virtual learning."
Simeon added that additional eviction days are coming up for many Buffalo families on September 15 and October 1.
Buffalo Public Schools released its working reopening plan in August. When explaining the decision last month to go all-virtual to start the year, Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash insisted the district and school board had been busy since the spring preparing for the next year.
Parents speaking Tuesday say the district has not been timely and transparent in its reopening planning process. They also dismiss any thought that the district couldn't prepare until it had more guidance from New York State.
"We're all dealing with a lot of uncertainty right now," said Jessica Bauer Walker, parent and president of the Buffalo Public Schools Community Health Worker Parent Association. "We're dealing with this and the work that we do and with our families, but you have to do scenario planning. The district is an organization of almost a billion dollars with lots of staff and infrastructure. We have been part of a district reopening committee. So we've been doing scenario planning, right? We can't be just waiting for the district or what's going to happen next."
Bauer Walker says parents should forward their concerns directly to their children's schools. She also encouraged parents to call the district's HELP line. That number is (716) 816-7100.