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Another Voice: Buffalo parents need to understand and exercise their rights on education

By Jason Zwara

Forty-four schools in Buffalo have been labeled as underperforming or failing by the New York State Education Department. The state requires these schools to review their current practices and develop interventions to drastically improve performance so that all students have access to a high-quality education that will prepare them for college and future careers.

Transforming a failing school can take time, and federal and state laws recognize this reality. Parents and students, however, do not have the time to wait for interventions to take hold. With that in mind, federal accountability laws give all students enrolled in a low-performing school the right to transfer into a school in good standing.

We The Parents Buffalo is a coalition of parents and community leaders working to ensure all parents understand this right. We are working closely with community partners, including churches, community centers, libraries, social service organizations and more, to educate parents of their right.

Unfortunately, because the Buffalo Public Schools have not been able to create more seats in high-performing schools, not everyone who requests a transfer is guaranteed placement in a better school. The district is in violation of the federal law.

Because the district is out of compliance, submitting an application does not guarantee a student will be transferred to a good school, and we make sure to make clear to parents that the district lacks capacity to accommodate all requests. Yet parents should know that lack of capacity is not an acceptable excuse for failing to accommodate a request, and the district is required to develop a plan for making sufficient capacity in good-standing schools available. By submitting a request, parents can inform the district that they want better educational options for their children now.

By requesting children be transferred into a good school, parents are exercising their right to choose a better option. All parents should be fully aware of this right and should be free to exercise this option.

Recent efforts by principals and the district to discourage parents from understanding and exercising this right are outrageous and akin to voter suppression.

We The Parents of Buffalo believes that all parents should understand their right to request their children be transferred out of a failing school and into a good school, what submitting a request actually means and what the district must do in response.

We believe that all parents have the best interests of their children in mind, are in the best place to make the right choice for their families and should have as many options at their disposal as possible.

Jason Zwara is a member of the We The Parents Buffalo coalition and executive director of Buffalo ReformED.