Answering parent questions: BPS offers some specific reopening clarifications in Thursday’s online discussion

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Buffalo Public School District leaders held another parent information session Thursday evening, and this one included responding to feedback and directly answering questions from parents, providing some clarification and details to the district’s in-progress reopening plan.

In the likely plan that BPS starts a hybrid school year (while also giving parents the choice to go completely remote), one of the biggest pieces of feedback Chief of Staff Dr. Darren Brown-Hall said he heard from parents is that they need a reliable schedule.

“Especially around childcare, that they need consistent days for their students,” he said in the online Zoom session.

With that in mind, the district is considering two hybrid plans that split the student body into Group A and Group B: one which alternates which kids go to school on Fridays, and one in which both groups of students go to school the same two days a week, every week, with Wednesday being a remote day for everyone.

Safety remains families’ and staff’s number one priority.

When it comes to coronavirus screening, the district is putting a lot of faith in parent responsibility.

“We are going to ask parents to take the temperature of their students before they send them off to school in the morning in the hybrid model. We will also do temperature checks, random temperature checks,” Dr. Brown-Hall said, further saying that the district will monitor if it needs to buy thermometers and send them home.

While students are required to wear masks in the building most of the time except for lunch, Brown-Hall explained there will be mask breaks, but the district is still working those out.

“Is it 10 minutes every hour? Two five minute breaks within the hour? So our health advisory panel and our medical director will give us guidance on that,” he said.

RESOURCE: Buffalo’s reopening plan

Bus safety is a whole other category of concern parents have.

“Will the buses have aides on them, and what is the protocol for kids who refuse to keep their mask on?” one mother asked.

Brown said bus drivers will have masks for any student boarding without one, and a progressive discipline policy will be implemented.

As for aides, he said not all busses will have aides due to a shortage.

“So what we have to do is utilize the bus aides we have on the most needed busses. For example, most our special education busses do have bus aides,” Brown-Hall said.

He noted the district is actively looking to hire more aides, but he said not a lot of people sign up to do that job.

Per CDC guidelines, Buffalo Schools will try to cohort elementary school students, because at that age they’re easier to keep together in one class throughout the day. That’s more challenging for high school-aged students, whose individualized schedules would normally have them traveling to different classrooms, and challenge for high schools is still something the district is working on.

Then, there’s virtual education quality and equality.

Right now, the district is not promising a virtual student will get the teacher she’d have in-person.

There’s also an attendance requirement for virtual learners too, where students are expected to check in online, whether through Microsoft Teams or other online-based learning programs.

That was cause for concern for at least one Buffalo father.

“For families that have parents who need to work full time and students that need to be attending daycare on those remote learning days, are they going to be penalized in that situation?” he asked.

Brown-Hall said no, however, families will need to work out a way for students to be present with their teachers at some point in the day online.

“We are not in the business of trying to penalize kids. We do understand the necessity and requirement of parents having to work, we completely get that,” he said. “So every situation is different, and we’ll have to look at every situation individually.”

BPS also held a special education discussion Thursday, Assistant Superintendent of Special Education Kim Hoelscher said administrators are considering bringing students with special needs or IEPs back full time, whether the rest of the district is hybrid or remote. Parents would, of course, still have the choice of choosing all-remote.

They’ve also ordered extra PPE for places like school 84, are considering cohorts for students who receive the same services, and working with health experts to address those students with needs that require assistants.

UPCOMING BPS VIRTUAL MEETINGS:

Safety & operations discussion – August 18

Transportation discussion – August 19

Erica Brecher is an anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2018. See more of her work here.

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