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Teachers union threatening lawsuit over rewards & punishments during English tests

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The latest fight between the Buffalo Teachers Federation and Buffalo Public Schools is heating up, this time over incentives like ice cream socials to persuade kids to take state-mandated tests and threats of punishment for those who don't.

The school system will get a letter from the union Monday, a letter also sent to the state commissioner of education and the state Board of Regents. It warns the district there might be a lawsuit by some parents over students who were ignored for goodies or even forced to spend hours in a school auditorium, not allowed to do anything, while classmates took English tests.

Math tests are coming up. BTF President Phil Rumore said the union will be checking this week for notices of incentives to take the math tests. Rumore said there are promises of future punishment.

"Imagine this: We had one parent call us and say that they were called by the principal to say, 'You should not take your child out because if they do, it will make it so that they can't take any advanced course next year.' How sick is that?" Rumore said.

Rumore said it is not fair to the kids.

"Whether you agree or disagree with the tests -- and I don't think they are worth anything, because they don't give you any meaningful data that you can use," he said. "And you know something, the only reason the principals are doing these things is to make themselves look good. It's not for the kids. It's not so you can help the child, because you don't get the data until six or eight months later."

Rumore likened it to child abuse.

"I consider this child abuse and we're going to be working with parents that, if this does happen again, that they will sue the district if they don't take action," Rumore said. "The district should make it so that the principal does not call parents, did not put pressure on students and that they don't have things that exclude other children that are opting out."

A school district spokesperson declined comment since the letter hasn't yet arrived. When the union made similar complaints about the English tests, a district official said incentives for different things are a routine part of education.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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