UFT: Too little, too late on Black Lives Matter

After three years of resistance, the UFT executive board finally voted to approve support for the Black Lives Matter at Schools week of action. Now we see UFT VP Janella Hinds speaking at a Black Lives Matter event. At its June DA the UFT considered several resolutions for about Black Lives Matter although none have fully approved as of yet. And the union has yet to mobilize for a single demonstration or concrete action in support of the movement. Here we republish the statement of the Steering Committee of Black Lives Matter at New York City Schools about the shortcomings of these actions.

The Steering Committee of Black Lives Matter at New York City Schools is disappointed, once again, by the United Federation of Teachers’ lack of response to the glaring and age-old crisis of racial injustice in our country, in our city, and in our schools. We know that the recent murders of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Nina Pop, Rayshard Brooks, and Dominique Rem’mie Fells, and the failure of our so-called justice systems to provide anything of the sort, are emblematic of the white supremacy on which our country was built. As teachers, we must acknowledge and fight against this reality; inaction sends a clear message to our students that we do not value their full humanity.

At last Wednesday’s UFT Delegate Assembly, several resolutions were on the agenda which addressed the Black Lives Matter movement and called on the UFT to address racial injustice in our schools. Two of these resolutions were written and proposed by teacher activist groups who have been working for years to persuade the UFT leadership to hear our demands: Black Lives Matter at New York City Schools and The Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE). Another resolution was put forth by a white teacher not affiliated with either of these groups. Only one of these resolutions was brought to the floor.

The resolution that was heard and voted on said “RESOLVED, the UFT stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and commits to taking deliberate action to improve the working conditions of our Black colleagues and the learning conditions of our Black students.” The resolution does not name even one concrete action the UFT will take, nor does it name any of the four demands of Black Lives Matter at Schools, despite the fact that the member who submitted the resolution stated the demands directly before the vote. The four demands of Black Lives Matter at Schools are as follows:

  1. End zero tolerance; restorative justice in all schools
  2. Mandate Black history & ethnic studies
  3. Hire more Black teachers
  4. Fund counselors, not cops

The resolution fails to specifically point out that Black educators must be hired more than ever so that the demographics of students are reflected in the staff of many NYC public schools.The UFT must insist that in all segregated schools where there are no Black teachers, Hiring Committees must ensure that active recruitment and outreach occurs and that there is monitoring from the union. 

The resolution also fails to address the role of School Safety Agents in schools, which are currently employed, trained, and supervised by the NYPD. There is widespread support among teachers, students, and even the Panel for Educational Policy to, at the very least, move SSAs from the NYPD to the DOE. The UFT should be advocating on our behalf for funds to be directed towards counseling and restorative justice, not policing!

Anything short of committing to the 4 demands, and creating a path to funding their successful implementation will be yet another empty promise that capitalizes on (white) solidarity optics and will not bring forth any real change to the students we serve, their families or to ourselves. The UFT has yet one more chance to stand on the right side of history and to do right by the families it serves. It is our hope that through this missive and our organizing efforts, the UFT will reconsider its response and commit to the clear anti-racist stance our students and teachers deserve. If they do not, we are ready for the fight we know is coming.

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