Buffalo teachers take the district to court over reopening plan

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Instead of the classroom, Buffalo teachers are headed to the courtroom. On Monday, the Buffalo Teachers Federation announced they’re taking legal action against Buffalo Public Schools over its reopening plan.

According to the union’s president, Phil Rumore, 70 percent of district teachers say they don’t feel safe under the current plan. Because of this, they’re fighting to stay home as long as their students are remote.

“We have gone to court today to prevent the district from implementing the procedures they have now,” Rumore explained. “We feel those are a danger to ourselves now and the students in the future.”

Although the district will start the school year 100-percent virtually, teachers are still required to teach from their building two to three days a week.

“I’ve talked to many teachers who said, look it, as long as the building is safe and they have protocols there, I’m more than willing to go into the building and teach,” Rumore said.

In fact, Rumore said some teachers could even volunteer to teach inside a classroom as opposed to their house when the school year starts. But at this point, the majority of district teachers don’t feel safe. Those he’s spoken with say they’re worried about sanitation, and it’s still unclear how the school will handle a positive COVID-19 case. Bceuase of this, BTF is taking the district to court, fighting to keep teachers home while the district is using the remote learning model.

Jessica Bauer Walker is the president of BPS Parent Community Health Worker Association. She told News 4 because the district is so diverse, each family will have different needs heading into this school year. Because of that, she said it will be important for everyone to come together as the district reopens.

“The teachers have a union, right? So they can do what they need to do to protect themselves and their interests. Parents don’t have that,” she said. “I hope at some point we all come back together after outlining the issues we have as individual stakeholder groups, because it really is going to take a village to get through this and support our children.”

As for BTF, Rumore said he’s hopeful they’ll have a court decision before teachers are expected to report next week. If not, they will have to head back to the classrooms under the district’s current reopening plan, against the union’s wishes.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Buffalo Public Schools says they are “disappointed but not surprised by the Buffalo Teachers Federation’s tactics,” and without students inside the building, the district is confident teachers will be safe in their classrooms.

BPS General Counsel Nathaniel Kuzma released this statement:

“The District is disappointed but not surprised by the Buffalo Teachers Federation tactics (BTF).  It has been clear from the beginning that the BTF was not going to be a solution oriented collaborative partner with the District.   

Similar to the successful reopening of Central Office, the District’s School Reopening plan follows all required health and safety measures as designated by the Center for Disease Control, the Erie County Health Department, and our Health Advisory Committee of experts. 

Without students in the building, the district is confident that teachers will be safe instructing students from their classrooms, and students will receive the vital and meaningful instruction that teachers are responsible for.”

Nathaniel Kuzma

Marlee Tuskes is a reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2019. See more of her work here.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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