The Movement of Rank and File Educators Calls for a Slow Down Over Spring Break
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Last week New York Governor Andrew Cuomo directed all districts to cancel their regularly scheduled spring breaks and to continue mandatory instruction without pause. In New York City, seven non-work days spanning from April 9th to April 17th have been eliminated, including high holy days for many New Yorkers. As of now only four additional CAR days have been agreed to in exchange. UFT members are now expected to provide regular instruction for the duration of what was once our spring break. This is a reckless decision by Governor Cuomo that harms students, families, educators, and other school-based workers. And it is a decision that demands a strong response from UFT members and leadership.
Educators (many of whom are parents), along with our students and their families, are experiencing major disruptions in our lives, on a scale that includes family deaths, to lack of technology or internet access, to juggling teaching and childcare simultaneously, to struggles adapting to remote learning (especially for English language learners and students with disabilities). On top of all this is the staggering loss of jobs and income among all New York families. Amidst these massive challenges, educators, parents, and students all deserve a break. Piling on more mandatory instruction only adds stress to what is already an enormously stressful, often traumatic situation.
Instead, this should be a time when educators are prioritizing the health and socioemotional well-being of students and families, as opposed to traditional instruction. This might take the form of individual check-ins with students and families to ensure they are safe and healthy, discussions about students’ adaptation to remote learning and general academic progress, and coordination with related school staff who can provide further assistance.
This is a reckless decision by Governor Cuomo that harms students, families, educators, and other school-based workers. And it is a decision that demands a strong response from UFT members and leadership.
Both the city government and the UFT leadership have argued that if teaching does not continue, students are more likely to violate social distancing guidelines. We reject this premise. There is a way to keep families safe without crushing them under the weight of academic rigor. The City Department of Health and the Parks Department should, during this time, be more active in enforcing social distancing guidelines at parks and public spaces to keep students safe. These departments can solicit teachers as volunteers if they are so willing, as was done for the Regional Enrichment Centers. There is an implicit bias inherent in the idea that some families don’t understand the role they should play in flattening the curve by staying inside.
Yet instead of organizing members to fight this drastic overreach by Governor Cuomo, our union leadership has either applauded it, expressed polite disagreement, or directed blame at the mayor who is in fact only following Cuomo’s orders. We all deserve a break and it’s being taken from us. We as union members will have to fight back.
We therefore call on all UFT members to engage in a work slow down from Thursday April 9th to Friday, April 17th, our originally scheduled break, for the benefit of students, families, and educators across the city.
What does it mean to do a slow down?
In short, it means eliminating or drastically reducing the amount of mandatory instruction for students. Of course, UFT members are in different contexts based on their chapter and administration. Not all chapters or individual members will feel comfortable doing this. So here are some options UFT members can pursue with their colleagues.
- First and foremost, we encourage all UFT chapters to meet early the week of April 6th and discuss what a sustainable plan for teaching and learning might look like during the time that should have been our break. This discussion should also involve the question of cancelling all mandatory staff meetings for what was once our regularly scheduled break.
- Secondly, if feasible in your school, do not post any mandatory work for students. You can think of this time as an opportunity for students to catch up on work they have fallen behind on. Some students and families will no doubt want additional enrichment activities for their kids, and teachers can provide these as optional for those who want them.
- If a total elimination of mandatory work is not possible in your school, then implement a major reduction in assigned work instead. Think about assigning 20% or 10% or 5% of what you typically ask students to do.
Finally, we call on the UFT leadership to negotiate a compensation package for all affected employees equivalent to seven working days. Undoubtedly many UFT members will be forced by administrators to work a typical schedule during this time (and as many educators have observed during remote learning, we are now working far more than typical).
As this transition to remote learning has made abundantly clear, educators have been willing to go above and beyond for our students. But mandating continued instruction is counterproductive for all those involved. We need a break.