A dissident group within the United Federation of Teachers July 29 urged Mayor de Blasio and the Department of Education not to resume in-person instruction in the fall.
Members of the Movement of Rank and File Educators caucus, as well as parents, health-care workers and other advocates, cautioned that schools would not be ready to provide safe conditions for staff and students once blended-learning—which allows students to receive both in-person and remote instruction—begins in September.
'Can't Do It Prematurely'
“We are not guinea pigs. We cannot afford to risk opening our schools prematurely,” said Emily Choi, a Kindergarten Teacher in Manhattan’s Chinatown who had a suspected COVID-19 case during the last two weeks that schools were open back in March.
Sean Petty, a Pediatric Emergency Room Nurse at Jacobi Hospital and a regional director for the New York State Nurses Association, supported that message.
“I want to state unequivocally that reopening in-person schooling will be a public-health nightmare,” he said. “There is not enough personal protective equipment available to protect to the public-school system. There is no way in hell that I am sending my child back to in-person schooling in this city.”
Although the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations has declined dramatically since the peak of the pandemic, fears remained about a second wave. In states such as Florida, the number of positive COVID-19 tests has shot up, leading to concerns from the UFT’s parent union, the American Federation of Teachers, about school reopening plans across the country.
The AFT has authorized local school communities to hold “safety strikes” as a last resort if safety thresholds are not met.
'Shows It's Drastic'
“The AFT strike authorization really shows how dire the situation is,” said Liat Olerick, a MORE member and elementary school Teacher in Brooklyn. “Our hope is that the DOE, the Mayor, the Governor will listen to us and change their planned proposal for September so that we aren’t put in a position where we have to consider striking.”
Danielle Filson, a spokeswoman for the DOE, noted that educators who were older or immuno-compromised have the option to ask to work from home.
“Health and safety come first, and our plans for the fall are built with input from our public-health experts and survey data from our families and staff,” she said. “We understand that there are varying levels of comfort around returning to buildings, which is why families can opt-in to fully remote learning and educators can request an accommodation to meet their health needs.”
The UFT has pushed for COVID testing and personal protective equipment to be available at schools, as well as for employees to be informed if they have been potentially exposed to the virus at school. The DOE came under scrutiny for ceasing to confirm coronavirus cases during the days leading up to the closing of schools March 16.
Mulgrew Not Striking?
The New York Post reported that UFT President Michael Mulgrew said during a phone town hall that the union was weighing holding protests or filing a lawsuit if it believes schools are reopening unsafely, but that it was not considering striking.
But the MORE members had not ruled that possibility out, despite the fact that the state Taylor Law imposes harsh penalties for striking.
“The word ‘strike’ has never exited the lips of our union leadership. So we’re hoping this really pushes our union to the edge,” said Special Education Teacher Jia Lee.
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