BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Tuesday, August 11, weeks before school is set to resume Buffalo Schools Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash went one-on-one with 7 Eyewitness News reporter Madison Carter.
In a wide-ranging interview they discussed the District’s reopening plans, feedback from parents and teachers, and whether he thinks students can return to the classroom safely.
Below is a transcript of that conversation.
Q: You had your first meeting with parents last night — how do you think it went? What do you feel the primary concern is for parents at this point?
Every day I get up…I feel like I’m taking my life into my hands. And, I think that’s how parents and teachers feel right now. That’s the concern that they have.
Q: Why is it that plan was put together without the input of parents? Why are they coming in now that the plan has already been shaped?
The plan wasn’t put together without the input of parents, that’s a false narrative. I was very much involved and we appreciate the efforts of the district to include our thoughts at that point and throughout that process.
Q: You said you were very much involved but parents hadn’t seen you in weeks, the rumor is you were out of the district.
Parents haven’t seen a lot of people.
We’ve requested interviews we haven’t necessarily been able to speak with you.
We’ve all been working from home. We’ve all been working from home.
You were here in the district?
I’m right here.
You were here in the district working from home?
I’m right here working from home.
I mean the past few months you haven’t been very visible.
I am where I am. Right here with you today.
I’m asking where you’ve been the past few months.
I’m right here with you today, that’s what’s important. Doing the work.
Okay, so no response there.
Q: Last night you said parents would have options. Will they get to choose between hybrid, in person, and remote learning?
...Or a plan they come up with. Teachers, parents, they’re all part of this work together. As I said, this will take a full community cooperation effort. I expect to hear from everyone — want to hear from everyone. And, It’s fluid.
Q: Why is the engagement coming so late?
The engagement is not late. I’ve been looking all across the country at these plans. I’ve been talking to my colleagues at the districts, especially the large school districts. No one has a plan completely baked yet. These are evolving plans they are draft one, draft two, draft three. That’s happening all over the country. So, I’m very pleased on where we are right now with our plans. A lot of hard work has gone into it. It has met the criteria that the state requires of us and now we’ll go forward to try to get teachers and parents and all stakeholders to be comfortable with it.
But comfortable doesn’t mean sitting on the sidelines, comfortable means giving us your ideas, giving us your thoughts of what is that will make you comfortable enough to do your professional responsibility. Teachers can’t sit this out. They have to give something.
q: Let's talk about that social disconnect and technological disconnect, that -- as you said -- Black and Brown and poor students struggle with — how are we going to bridge that gap and who is responsible for getting that technology to students?
We now have an approved an approved smart schools bond proposal for $13 million that would give every child a device including the peripherals that go with that.
M&T for example has come to us and said, “How can we help you?” And they’re looking at a plan now to get additional funding and support for our students.
q: You put out a survey to parents, only 1400 parents responded when there are 33,000 students in the district. What does that say to you? Does it show a lack of parent involvement? To contrast — the Buffalo Teachers Federation teacher's survey had 3100 teachers respond.
That’s what they say, I don’t know
That survey is ongoing. I don’t know what those results were there could be a lot of reasons for that.
Well, you published the results.
The survey is continuous. That was a time and space of June 2nd to about the middle of June. And now we have a survey out again.
So it’s continuous. August 10th through roughly August 21st will be a chance for parents to continue to get their survey information in.
Do you feel like this survey is a representative sample?
Oh, I don’t know. I just ask my research team to analyze and report on what came in.
What do you mean you don’t know? You published the results of the survey saying people were overwhelmingly happy with how the district has responded.
Yeah, but there are other ways we’ve been asking continuously for input. That’s just one way. A survey is just one way of input.
We’re calling for it from all angles, from everyone. We just do what we do and hope that more people participate.
Q: On teaching and learning — in terms of accountability, what's that accountability factor for teachers getting material across (to students) virtually?
That’s what we have to ask them about. That’s why I’ve called for these meetings with the BTF. That’s why I’ve said to their president and to whoever will respond….What should it look like? What do you think it should look like? It’s your responsibility You help us envision what a day in the life should look like.
Q: You want teachers to tell you who should hold them accountable?
No. we hold everyone accountable, but we want teachers should be in the plan for what a day in life should look like.
Q: Then, that takes us back to the beginning - why weren’t teachers more involved over the summer?
They were they were.
Q: Well why weren’t you speaking directly to teachers? Why are these sessions coming only after the Governor required them?
The Governor — we already had these plans in session. Those 20 sessions were sent out last week, well before the Governor. The Governor probably is following what we’re doing here in buffalo frankly. We had all of those plans in place. We’ve been anticipating all this. Now it’s time to get serious and to the business of how we do this. How do we do this? What does it look like? All of that now, it’s time to talk. It’s time to be involved.
Dr.Cash, at the end of another question, informs 7 Eyewitness News that Buffalo Schools now have a program with the Erie County Health Department to help with testing and contact tracing.
I don’t want to reopen unless we have a strong testing program and a strong contact tracing program with relatively quick results so we can take decisive action and quick action as needed. And so now we have a collaboration with the ECDOH around those two important issues: testing and contact tracing.
Q: On health and safety -- who is going to be responsible for it? It (the BPS draft reopening plan) says “the security staff will implement protocols.” Does that mean police officers in schools?
We have a security team, full security team of about 45 security officers. Then we have a compliment of BPD officers that work in our schools with us. Close to 100 altogether.
They’ll be responsible for implementing health and safety protocols?
Oh, no no no, not at all. They’ll be a part of our work to check on and evaluate… they may help transport for example if a parent is at home or at work and can’t get to the child that we’ve tested or has symptoms and they’re in an isolation room.
Security may rush them to home, or in some cases, may rush them to ER — with parent’s permission.
Our building engineers and custodians will be responsible for the health and safety protocol. But it will be a shared responsibility across departments.
Q: Why do you say (in the BPS draft reopening plans) it might be impossible to meet the 180-day requirement if there’s a remote/hybrid model?
Well, think about it. There’s a lot of concern out there. It’s going to be a very jagged school year. Very jagged. As soon as someone has symptoms they’re going to be pulled into a room…they’re going to have to wait to get an appointment to be tested… then they’ll have to wait on test results. And, what that’s running right now is about 10, 15, 18 days.
But I thought the program was designed for them to be able to learn remotely no matter what?
Yeah, they can do that. That’s how we’ll start.
That’s why I'm confused on the 180 days being impossible.
180 day — again, it depends on the parents, what the teachers, where we come together at the apex. That’s what the law requires — that’s what we were expecting to do. But with that two weeks, just to pressure test, and hammer out the details… That was a 10-day kind of a period. And, I was asking for flexibility for about a 10-day period where we could all do that. That would make it a 170-day request versus a 180-day request.
We’ll see, I expect more and more districts as the year progresses start to see how many kids are out how many staff are out. in, out, in out… it makes for a jagged year. I didn’t want the heavy burden to fall on the students and the families for all of these high stakes accountability issues. Public health is first is my point. Public health trumps everything.
Q: How concerned are you with the budget?
I’m very concerned we have forward funded some things that we think are absolutely essential to start the school year like basic PPE equipment, basic thermometers and gloves and masks and all of that we’ve forward funded that. We’re forward funding getting the laptops devices and all of the equipment that we need for the kids. But if the funding doesn’t come back with smart schools bond money actually reaching us, with FEMA reimbursement money actually reaching us then we’re going deeper into our funds that were not all budgeted — that then puts us in a precarious situation if for example the Governor further reduces our budgets which he has indicated he may do. Now we’re into a very, very tough situation to be able to meet the expectation of any plan that emerges. We’ll do all we can to front-load some of the cost of this as we go forward hoping for reimbursement.
Cash ended our interview by comparing the responsibility of teachers in the District to that of frontline workers during the pandemic.
They weren’t going to do it, they had too many concerns. Well guess what? They had a lot of concerns. They never got the PPE equipment that they should’ve, they never got the full support that they desired, they deserved. Yet, they still went in every day to do their job. Many of us that’s what we do. We’re here to save the lives of children and the trajectories of their future by giving them an equal and high-quality education. How we do that during a pandemic? I don’t have all the answers. I have more questions than answers. So let’s work together and help solve it.