Twenty-two school employees have tested positive for COVID—and that’s just one of many challenges educators are facing even before the start of the school year, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said Sept. 11.
Within three days of staff members returning to schools Sept. 8 to prepare for what is likely to be a difficult school year ahead of them, there were 22 coronavirus cases at 21 schools, according to the union.
Some Still Not Cleaned
Despite the fact that the Department of Education promised to deep-clean every school and provide adequate personal protective equipment and ventilation, some buildings haven’t been cleaned since March, while others haven't been stocked with masks and sanitizer, Mr. Mulgrew said.
“This has got to be one of the worst weeks many of us have gone through. We’re angry, I’m pissed off,” the union leader said in a video message to members. “You would think that with the challenges that we are facing, that the city would have brought their A-game. And they just didn’t.”
He threatened to delay school reopening because it was taking longer than 48 hours to get test results in some instances. And once educators found out they've tested positive, the DOE has been "scrambling" to inform those who have been exposed to the virus.
“If the city can’t live up to its side of this agreement, then we’re going to say you can’t open,” he told NBC.
A City Hall spokeswoman said that test results were available within 48 hours 95 percent of the time.
On the first day staffers returned to their school buildings, two employees—one at M.S. 88 and another at P.S. 1, both in Brooklyn—tested positive for COVID, according to the DOE.
'Preview of What's Coming'
“This [is] a preview of what will happen when students report on the 21st, again without any required testing beforehand,” the Movement of Rank and File Educators caucus of the union wrote in a statement. The caucus is demanding full-time remote-learning until school buildings can reopen safely.
The DOE has promised to close classrooms where someone tests positive for the virus and require students and Teachers in those classes to quarantine for 14 days.
Mayor de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza agreed with the UFT and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators to test a random sampling of students and staff for COVID on a monthly basis starting Oct. 1. However, the deal does not mandate testing before they enter a school building, which the UFT had sought.
“School staff have access to free, expedited testing," said DOE spokeswoman Miranda Barbot.
More than 70 DOE employees have died from the coronavirus.
The DOE announced Sept. 10 that it is allowing 26,700 employees—including almost 16,000 Teachers, or more than 20 percent—to work from home. Two hundred Principals will also work remotely.
About 30,400 staffers requested an accommodation in lieu of reporting to school for blended-learning.
An Added Problem
The staffing shortages present challenges to implementing blended-learning, which requires educators to teach at school and virtually. So far, 39 percent of the city’s 1.1-million public-school students have opted to learn remotely full-time; the rest will receive in-person instruction part-time.
The Mayor said that he was “confident” schools would have an adequate complement of Teachers.
“Remember, we have thousands of DOE personnel who are ready to teach in a classroom," he said. “We also have many thousands of substitutes that we've worked with in the past who can be mobilized as well.”
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