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Williamsville parents protest decision to move all instruction online for grades 5-12

Williamsville parents protest decision to move all instruction online for grades 5-12

Outraged Williamsville parents were mobilizing Friday to combat the district’s decision to switch all middle school and high school students to remote learning, even though nearly 80% had chosen to attend school in person two days a week.

Some parents say they are going to protest outside the district office.

Others are considering enrolling their kids in private schools.

And there’s talk of a class action lawsuit against the district.

“The parents feel betrayed,” said Jim Milbrand, a Williamsville parent. “There’s been a sudden change with no explanation for it.”

The region’s largest suburban school district announced its decision Thursday to move instruction for all of its secondary students online, starting Tuesday. The goal is to bring fifth and sixth graders back in a hybrid model by Nov. 16, officials said. For students in grades seven to 12, the target date is Jan. 4.

“Last night’s meeting left us shell-shocked,” said Steve Siffringer, whose two children attend high school in Williamsville. “We’re utterly perplexed. We don’t know what the problem is.”

Williamsville students had been given the choice between fully remote classes or a hybrid option, which involved attending classes in school two days a week and learning from home the other three. About 80% of the secondary students opted for the hybrid model.

But four days before school was scheduled to start, the district announced that the opening would be delayed indefinitely for the fully remote students in grades 5 to 12. There were not enough teachers, officials said – they needed about 20 more. The elementary students and the hybrid students, though, began school as scheduled.

The delayed opening angered many parents of remote-only students.

Just a few days later, though, Williamsville announced during a meeting streamed online that all of the secondary hybrid students would be forced to go fully remote as of Tuesday.

“They were not able to solve for remote learning for 1,000-plus students, but now we’re able to solve for remote learning for 10,000 students?” asked Kathy Mahshie, who has two children in the district. “I don’t know how that’s going to happen.”

Some parents say the district offered very little in the way of explanation as to why thousands of students would be shifted to online instruction. Acting Superintendent John McKenna said during the meeting Thursday that the change would enable the district to provide the high quality education that Williamsville families expect of their schools.

Hybrid learners were scheduled to receive two full days of instruction when they were in school and a shortened day of live instruction remotely on Wednesdays. Two days a week, students were to learn from home, logging onto Google Classroom to find out what assignments they had and completing the work on their own.

Having all students learn remotely will enable the schools to provide five full days of instruction, McKenna said.

But many parents say they don’t understand why the district offered them the hybrid option, only to revoke it. Some say they don’t think the district adequately explained its reasoning.

“Is it a matter of staffing? Is it a matter of curriculum? Is it a matter of technology?” Siffringer asked. “They didn’t explain any of that.”

Soon after the district made its announcement Thursday evening, he began circulating a petition online among parents who want the district to resume the hybrid option sooner. Within hours, more than 700 parents signed the petition.

Siffringer and other parents say they are willing to give the district a couple of weeks, or even a month, to work through whatever challenges it’s facing in order to resume the hybrid option.

“Four months is completely unacceptable,” Siffringer said. “I don’t see how anyone couldn’t agree with us on that. We want something earlier than January.”

Some parents say much of the turmoil in the district could have been avoided if the teachers union had agreed to have cameras in the classroom so that lessons being taught in the schools to hybrid students could be live-streamed to remote students. That’s the approach that the neighboring Clarence School District is taking.

“I don’t understand why they can’t do that in Williamsville,” Milbrand said. “In the next two weeks, they should do what should have been done in March – they should install cameras in the classrooms and broadcast the teachers giving their lessons.”

Most of the school board members are either teachers, former teachers, or married to teachers, he pointed out.

“My fear is that nobody’s pushing cameras in the classrooms because the board is controlled by the unions,” he said. “That, I have a real problem with. I fear the board doesn’t have the students’ best interests at heart. Or at least it’s appearing that way.”

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