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New superintendent, COVID court ruling await Williamsville school board candidates

Williamsville Central Schools
Terri Parks of the League of Women Voters leads the "Meet the Candidates" forum.

Williamsville voters on Tuesday get an opportunity to decide who will sit on the school board, giving instructions to its only employee, incoming Superintendent Darren Brown-Hall.It's a district hit with turmoil in the last year, as COVID whacked the district and put most students in front of a home computer screen. The school board is also under court orders to get students back in the classroom five days a week

There are six candidates for three seats, with two incumbents seeking another term and a former board member seeking to return after six years off. All six were on a virtual candidates meeting Wednesday evening, with the League of Women Voters in charge of running the event.

Candidates had direct chances to pitch their candidacies and were also asked a series of questions, with each asked to answer. The first question was not surprising in the COVID academic atmosphere: How soon should all students be back in classrooms five days a week?

Rev. Terry King said he is a little suspicious about who advised federal scientists on reopening schools, something he supports.

"I'm not a scientist. but I want to believe the science is fact-based," King said. "Recently, it was alarming to read that the CDC allowed an outside body, the national teachers union, to rewrite guidance, which really put into question what fact base is the guidance speaking to."

Swaroop Singh said he also supports five-day instruction.

"For the safety of our children, I believe the first and the foremost criterion, if once we have guidance from the CDC and other organizations come up with the guidelines saying the all clear to open schools, our schools should have plans ready to do it," Singh said.

The candidates were also asked about the priorities of the school board and whether remote instruction should continue, even when regular five-day classes return. Maureen Poulin said it's not a simple decision.

"In-person model is always going to be our first priority and that's the model that we would choose the most," Poulin said. "But like lots of things that have happened over COVID, businesses have learned that people working from home isn't such a bad thing and maybe that's how we'll continue. I don't think anybody is advocating for continuing remote learning for everyone all the time, by any means."

Incumbent Eric Borenstein said he isn't sure there is an answer to that question.

"The fully remote option has helped us through this crisis, but actually, I don't have a fully evolved answer for that question," Borenstein said. "I guess my answer would be informed by what the community and the experts tell us is possible. And I'm just not sure what the right way to go on this is."

Another question revolved around teaching race and social justice issues in the classroom. Incumbent Shawn Lemay said it should be.

"Diversity comes not only from our staffing, but from also assuring that we teach the correct and accurate well-rounded education to all of our students," Lemay said. "As we look back at what was being taught, we realize there have been changes in how the facts have been presented. I believe it's important for everyone in history to have their story told, and accurately. That being said, I don't believe there's going to be a radical shift in what the district teaches."

He pointed out that Albany decides most of what the school teaches on these issues.

Former board member Michael Littman said schools already delve into these issues.

"Our district does, to some extent, include topics of diversity and race. It does issues raised by anti-Semitism, anti-Asian and anti-Muslim topics, so that those issues are brought forward," Littman said, "and I think it has great value."

Also on the ballot Tuesday is the district's proposed 2021-22 budget.

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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