WEST VALLEY — On Monday, students in the West Valley Central School District will begin attending classes for the 2020-21 school year, all in-person, all five days a week.
Due to continued concern during the coronavirus pandemic, every other school district in Cattaraugus County is reopening with virtual learning or hybrid models in place.
But with West Valley’s average class size of 15 students, social distancing won’t be an issue.
Although the West Valley Teachers Association recently issued a vote of No Confidence in the Board of Education alleging a lack of transparency in recent months, teachers union president Steve Kenworthy says this decision is the right move.
“We have the physical space to do it, so we can address all the issues of staff and student safety and health just by the amount of space we have,” he said. “It’s where small becomes an advantage for us.”
Kenworthy said while most schools are going the hybrid model route, West Valley is able to follow all the state’s guidelines for reopening while still having every student attend in-person.
“I think, for the most part, the union is on board with that,” he said. “Our principal did a great job of planning and making sure everything was safe and followed guidelines. We’ve had plenty of meetings so there have been no transparency issues there.”
However, rallies outside West Valley’s one-building campus has accompanied several of the recent school board meetings as district employees, students and community members demonstrate their frustration with the board’s recent lack of transparency.
On Aug. 11, former superintendent Eric Lawton resigned, retiring nearly a full school year before initially expected, with Mark Ward appointed interim superintendent Aug. 17. The decision by the school board to change superintendents in the middle of the pandemic was criticized by the teachers union and community.
Since then, Kenworthy said a letter from the teachers association was sent to the school board outlining what the board has to do to earn back the confidence of the union and community.
In the letter, the union expressed concerns about rumors of discussions on merging, annexing or tuitioning out the district; concerns over the lack of details disclosed on why Lawton resigned; and requesting assurance that any future plans for the district be discussed publicly as well as continuing to allow public comment at future board meetings.
“We received assurance from the board president on (Aug. 25) that there would be no drastic changes this year, but that’s just this year is not good enough for us,” Kenworthy said. “We’d like them to commit to several years moving forward.”
Regarding the recent rallies, Kenworthy said he felt it was time for parents and school staff to step up and start speaking out against the nay-sayers. He said many of those not in favor of keeping the district going either don’t have kids or send their kids to a different district.
Kenworthy said the union and those at the rallies want to see more board members who support the school and don’t talk about how small the district is and the possibility of being annexed or tuitioned out.
“It’s really a bad thing for staff morale and student morale,” he said. “There’s always room for improvement, but we feel like we’re doing a really good job and we’re doing right by our kids.”
(Contact managing editor Kellen Quigley at firstname.lastname@example.org)