Last week, Chancellor Carranza and UFT President Michael Mulgrew laid out the beginnings of a “plan” for school reopening in September. The “hybrid model” proposed for learning remains short on details, but long on unreasonable expectations for teachers and principals that will only worsen the inequality in our schools during a global pandemic. Public health decisions that could mean life or death for staff or our students families should not be decided on a school by school basis. Meanwhile, the Governor and the Mayor are still threatening massive cuts to school budgets that will cripple our ability to keep students safe both in school buildings and during remote learning.
We were heartened to see the Chancellor support a “Trauma-Informed Transition Back to School,” which echoes the demands we raised in early April to prioritize social-emotional health and healing for students and staff alike. We were encouraged by the commitment to safeguard students, staff and communities by adopting “Enhanced Health Measures” which include PPE for all.
But the fact remains that, without significant efforts to regain the trust of school communities, without establishing clear accountability measures for student and staff safety and without adequate funding for supplies and staffing, no plan will suffice. Furthermore, no plan will be good enough until an uncomfortable truth is faced: the NYC Department of Education, Chancellor, Mayor, and Governor have blood on their hands.
Teachers, parents and students, have lost all faith in the DOE’s ability to act with our best interest at heart. Thousands of our loved ones are no longer with us in part due to the failure of elected and appointed officials to heed the warnings as Covid-19 descended upon us. We watched in awe as private institutions and districts a fraction of our size with far lower risks of viral spread were shut down out of an abundance of caution, while our schools lacked basic sanitary items like soap and running water but remained open. We despaired as reported cases of Covid-19 in our schools were swept under the rug. Shortly thereafter, we witnessed our colleagues and loved ones succumb to the disease. The disproportionate loss of life in Black and brown communities fills us with anger that is beyond our ability to quantify.
On what basis can communities trust the DOE won’t put us all in danger again? It is not enough to pay lip service with words like “trauma-informed,” “anti-racist,” and “restorative justice:” An education system serving 1.1 million students who are majority low-income students of color needs to act to repair the harms it has enacted.
As a reminder, it took thousands of educators threatening to hold a “sick out” to force the Mayor to close schools. It took the UFT threatening legal action against the Mayor to close schools. Parents spoke loud and clear: a whopping 68% of students were kept home on March 13th, what would become the last day they’d be allowed to enter school buildings this year. We have not forgotten this. Without taking accountability for the tragic, preventable loss of life our communities continue to mourn, no efforts to reopen safely can be trusted. And, if schools are reopened without such accountability and health justice measures, teachers, students, families will again be forced to choose to keep their children home to ensure the safety of our communities.
We demand better for ourselves, our students and their families.
WE DEMAND THE UFT ENSURES:
- School staff and students do not return to school buildings without a clear Memorandum of Agreement on both hybrid and remote learning, negotiated with input from a majority of UFT members
- School staff and students do not return to school buildings until the grievance process is reopened.
Protect Physical & Emotional Health:
- Health Justice Monitoring Teams: Community health teams that adhere to a culturally sustaining, healing centered and intentionally decriminalized approach and function apart from School Safety Team.
- Public Health Standards: Universal testing, extensive contact tracing, and social distancing must be achieved throughout the NYC region and in schools before students and teachers should return to school buildings.
- Safe Transportation: All public transit must be deemed safe by infectious disease experts.
- Basic Sanitation: Basic non-toxic sanitary supplies such as soap, soap dispensers, alcohol-based hand sanitizer, sanitary napkins, and toilet paper must be provided in all schools.
- PPE for All: Personal Protective Equipment for airborne illness must be regularly provided to all students and school-based staff, including SSAs, cafeteria workers and bus drivers.
- Transparency and the Right to Know: DOE must re-establish trust by sharing the risk of reporting with all staff, students, and families.
- Prioritize Space for Students: Space must be prioritized for student use, such as appropriate rooms for social workers and counseling, not administration or NYPD.
- Capital Projects: Institute major improvements to school buildings and equipment, including HVAC upgrades to improve ventilation, lighting, and water piping.
- Hire More Essential Staff: Reroute non-essential funding: increase nurses, social workers, grief counselors, school psychiatrists, and all other student-facing staff.
- Community-Based Policy Making: Staff, family, student and community participation in all DOE-wide policy-making decisions and school-based Health Monitoring.
- Remove NYPD from Schools: The NYPD’s record of ongoing racist policing has no place in the school community. Divestment from NYPD in our schools will allow for investment in essential staff needed such as social workers, school counselors, and nurses.
- Public Schools for the Public: Reject ploys to prioritize private interests over the public good of our city’s educators, students, and families.
- Re-Frame Education toward Healing-Centered, Culturally Responsive, Anti-Racist, and Non-Criminalizing Approaches: Health and healing must be the priority whenever schools reopen. We reject the narrative of “playing catch up,” and instead choose to reframe education with a vision for healing centered learning. Education should center the co-creation of flexible, responsive and adaptive learning experiences alongside families. Our schools should be places where everyone can thrive and self actualize (NYCoRE).
- Equity for all Diverse Learners: Ensure hygiene and social distancing measures are accessible for all people, and that all students have access to healing centered education. Support diverse learners who may struggle to readjust upon returning to school, ensuring they have what they need to get through the day. This includes homeless, adult, and incarcerated students.
Sign here to endorse reopening schools with a Health Justice Agenda.