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Buffalo schools could delay reopening for weeks

Buffalo schools could delay reopening for weeks

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Buffalo Public Schools would not reopen on Sept. 8 as scheduled, if the state approves the district’s reopening plan.

Superintendent Kriner Cash is calling for a four-phase reopening that would begin with an undetermined amount of time for teachers and other staff to receive training and set up their classrooms.

No specific time frames are provided for any of the phases in the district’s plan, but it appears likely that, if the state approves the plan, Buffalo schools would not open until sometime in October or perhaps even later.

The district plans to ask the state for several waivers for the 2020-21 school year, including an exemption from having to provide the 180 days of instruction that are required by law. Cash's intention to request regulatory waivers from the state are buried in the plan that Buffalo submitted to the State Education Department, in the appendix of the plan. 

The document is marked as a working draft, but has been submitted to the state. In an email to parents Saturday afternoon, a district official wrote, "This is a working draft that will change based on stakeholder input and guidance and directives from the State throughout August."

Cash declined through spokeswoman Elena Cala to comment for this story. Cala noted that various parent leaders and representatives were talking to reporters about the plan. 

"These are the discussions that are most important in the wake of the release of the draft working plan by the District," she said in a text message.

Buffalo also plans to ask that its students be exempt from taking Regents exams and, for students in third through eighth grade, state math and English assessments.

Districts across the state were required to post online their reopening plans on Friday. Buffalo, which posted its plan just before 7 p.m., was one of the last to post.

Each district’s plan varies, but nearly all are looking to open the week after Labor Day using a hybrid model in which students attend school in person two days a week and receive remote instruction the other three days. In some places, elementary students will be attending school in person every day, while secondary students receive their instruction either partially or entirely remotely.

Gov. Cuomo has said that schools will be able to re-open in person as long as the regional coronavirus infection rate remains 5% over a two-week average. He has said he will make announcements by Aug. 7 which regions can open their schools. Western New York's infection rate has hovered around 1% for weeks now.

In Buffalo, students in every grade will attend school in person every other day, under its submitted plan. That means that one week, a student would attend in person on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The following week, that student would attend on Tuesday and Thursday.

Buffalo’s plan, though, stands out from all the others in Western New York. No other district plans to ask the state for approval to make such drastic changes.

On Saturday at his coronavirus briefing, Cuomo made it clear that the final decision will rest with parents on whether to send their children back to the classroom.

Parents are already well informed and will be looking for details in district reopening plans, he said. If they do not see answers to their questions, they will conclude the district is not prepared.

Reopening plans should represent the start of a discussion between parents and district officials, according to the governor.

“The burden is on the districts to make the parents comfortable. If parents are not confident, you‘ll have partial attendance and that is not going to serve anyone,” he said.

-Staff reporter Lou Michel contributed to this article

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