Chaos and turmoil descended upon one of the largest K-12 public school systems in the suburbs of Buffalo, New York, after Williamsville Central Schools Superintendent Scott Martzloff announced Friday that virtual classes for more than 1,000 students in grades 5-12 would be delayed because 90 staff members took leaves of absence because of coronavirus and more than 100 resigned or retired.
Martzloff sent a letter to parents of students in the district on Friday explaining the decision:
All students in our hybrid instructional model will begin class on September 8, 2020. Students in grades K-4 who are participating in the fully remote online learning model will also begin classes on time on September 8, 2020. However, due to the number of middle school and high school students who are in the fully remote online learning model, students in grades 5-12 will have a delayed start to the year. Delaying the start of our fully remote online learning model is currently the best path forward.
During the planning process, we had 2,361 students elect to participate in the fully remote online learning model. Of those students, 1,375 are at the middle and high school levels, which created more than 80 virtual teacher vacancies in the District. We are working diligently to fill those positions to begin instruction in the fully remote online learning model for students in grades 5-12. Simultaneously, the District has had 90 staff members take a leave of absence due to COVID-19 and 111 staff members resign.
In addition, at this time, students in the hybrid or fully remote online learning model will not be allowed to transfer instructional models until October 1, 2020. After October 1, 2020, the District will only allow students to transfer one time to a different instructional model.
On Saturday, the Williamsville Teachers’ Association said the delay in virtual instruction for grades 5-12 was not the union’s fault, the Buffalo News reported:
While the union did not mention the leaves of absence, it addressed 105 of the 111 resignations it was able to account for.
Fifty of those were retirements, 22 of them teachers, according to the union’s post on social media. All but four gave notice before March 1.
Another 55 were resignations – six of them teachers, according to the union’s post.
Late Monday, the Williamsville Central Schools Board placed Martzloff on a leave of absence:
In an emergency board meeting Monday afternoon, the Williamsville School Board voted to put Superintendent Dr. Scott G. Martzloff on a leave of absence, effective immediately.
The vote was unanimous.
This announcement comes after the school board held a special meeting Sunday regarding the superintendent’s decision to have a delayed start for remote students in grades five through 12. The school board released a statement the day prior saying the decision to delay the remote start date came as a surprise.
Martzloff was replaced by Acting Superintendent John McKenna, who posted this message on the district’s website:
I realize this is a time of deep hurt and pain for our community. We need to heal and come together, and support each other to ensure our students receive the very best education. I understand your frustration and anger regarding the District’s current situation. I am also a parent in the District and have a vested interest in ensuring that we resolve these issues as soon as possible.
These are stressful times for our children and families. As we move forward, our primary focus remains on opening our doors to students who will be receiving instruction through the hybrid model on Tuesday, ensuring our K-4 students are fully supported as they begin their remote online learning, and finding a manageable solution for our students in grades 5-12, who are in the fully remote online learning model, so they can begin their instruction as well. As we begin our school year, we will be evaluating and reviewing our instructional models with key stakeholders to determine the best path to take to ensure our students receive the safest and highest quality educational experiences.
We will work tirelessly until all students receive an excellent and equitable education – an education they deserve
The chaos and turmoil that surrounded the resumption of classes in Williamsville Central Schools in suburban Buffalo over the weekend is not unique to school districts in Upstate New York.
Indeed, the resumption of classes in public schools in many urban and suburban school systems around the country during the coronavirus pandemic has been characterized by the kind of controversy seen in Williamsville during the past several days.
Politics plays a key role in that controversy, as the #RedforEd movement and teachers’ unions have been actively engaged in political activities on behalf of their endorsed candidate for president, Democrat Joe Biden.