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NY Teachers Union and Allies: No School Should Open Amidst Pandemic Unless They Meet Special Criteria

August 21, 2020

By Naeisha Rose

New York, NY – Unions both local and national are supporting the UFT in its stance putting the health of teachers and the students they serve before politics. 

“It is time for New York City to put forth a transparent and clear plan under the guidance of medical experts.” — UFT President Michael Mulgrew.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew announced this week in a joint press conference with medical experts, elected officials, as well as parent and community representatives, that the more than 700 public schools his members serve need mandatory COVID-19 tests before entering any educational institution. Also, that there should be a UFT School Health and Safety Report to document procedures, the allocation of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies. 

“No New York City school should open unless it meets the criteria, all of the criteria of our school safety report that we are to present to you here today,” Mulgrew said. “It is time for New York City to put forth a transparent and clear plan under the guidance of medical experts.”

The three-point plan demands a call for adults and children to be tested for COVID-19 before they can return to school; random, intermittent testing of each school community to catch asymptomatic spread of the disease; and for union members to inspect every city school to see if the promised PPE, ventilation upgrades, social distancing and other COVID protocols and supplies are in place.

If the measures are not met, students will have to do online remote learning until the safety procedures are adhered to, even if it requires a phased opening of schools, according to the UFT. 

“It is time that all city schools receive the same support and meet the same criteria so that all children, all teachers and all parents will understand if their school is ready to open safely in the health challenge that we all face,” said Mulgrew. “We need to make sure that each school has a proper plan – not a bunch of names on a list, but a plan for all of the procedures.”

Plans on how children enter and leave schools; how they enter and leave school buses and public transportation; the provision of nurses and isolation rooms for sick students/teachers; the efficiency of HVAC systems; and the COVID-19 response teams that schools have will also play a factor on whether schools will reopen, according to Mulgrew. 

“Safety is the number one priority of all educators, especially now, and countless health experts have spoken about the importance of extensive testing to keep communities healthy,” added Mark Cannizzaro, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators. “The UFT’s call for more robust testing is not new; they have called on the city to conduct more testing since meetings with the DOE first began. CSA will continue to work with all stakeholders to make sure school buildings reopen safely and with sufficient resources to provide a quality instructional program that our students deserve.”

Dr. Jacqueline Moline, the vice president of Occupational Medicine, Epidemiology and Prevention at Northwell Health, has dealt with or helped to thwart similar health problems in schools like asbestos, tuberculosis, H1N1 and the Ebola Virus. 

“One of the tenets of occupational medicine is prevention,” said Moline. “Prevention is through a strong plan that has the elements to protect everyone going into a school.”

Schools must have a rigorous safety plan in order to ensure the health of the student body when sending clusters of hundreds into an enclosed space during a pandemic, according to Moline. 

“As the Chair of the Council’s Hospitals Committee, I’ve spent countless hours learning about how this virus spreads and can easily re-emerge even when it seems to be under control,” said City Councilwoman Carlina Rivera (D-Manhattan). “You need to have a high-quality, well-laid plan for any phase of re-opening – and at this time we just haven’t seen that from DOE.”

Gloria Corsino, the co-president of the Citywide Council on Special Education and the mother of two special needs students, is in staunch support of the UFT and its three-point plan. 

“I like anybody else wants their children back in the school building. It is essential, it is a need for them, it is a need for everyone, but I also want everybody to be safe, including the people who are educating my children,” said Corsino. “I don’t want jeopardize anyone’s safety, let alone my children. I want the truth like you guys do and I want the staff to have the proper equipment. If they are protected, my children are protected.”

Christine C. Quinn, president and CEO of Win, the largest provider of shelter to women and families in New York City shares Corsino’s sentiments. 

“The one-in-ten students in the public-school system experiencing homelessness have both the highest barriers to keeping up in a remote learning situation, and the highest stakes, as many are already behind their peers in school,” said Quinn. ” “Win moms want to send their children back to school – but the plans that we’ve seen are woefully inadequate and don’t meet their families’ health and safety needs in-person, or their academic, social and emotional support needs remotely.”

President Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers, a 1.7-million strong union, supports the UFT’s decision. 

“The UFT has been working since April on how to reopen schools,” said Weingarten. “Frankly, before the resurgence of the disease, we could see around the country that 75-percent of our members said, ‘if we could get the safety standards that Mike Mulgrew and the UFT have as their report card, we will be comfortable going back to school.”

Unfortunately, President Donald Trump’s mandate on funding only schools that were fully open resulted in other school district in different states later dismissing the UFT’s proposals, according to Weingarten. 

“Donald Trump decided to throw a wrench into all of the planning and failed to do any of the work in terms of resources,” said Weingarten. “Now what you are seeing is over 60-percent in a Peterson Poll – not a liberal poll – in a Peterson Poll 60-percent of parents and teachers say, ‘that they were very concerned about school re-openings because of what happened in the last few weeks.”

Two weeks ago, a suburb in Georgia opened up its schools, which resulted in nearly 1,200 students being quarantined. 

The New York State AFL-CIO, 1199SEIU, DC-37, AFSCME, AFL-CIO and Local 372 DC-37 also stand by the UFT’s decision to mandate testing and other procedures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“I want everything to be in working order before I allow the most precious gifts that I have to walk into any school building,” said Corsino. 

August 21, 2020

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