On Tuesday, September 1st, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a deal with the heads of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), Council of Supervisors and Administrators (CSA), and District Council 37 (DC 37) to begin in-person instruction on September 21st. Although the unions and Mayor de Blasio hailed the deal as a cooperative victory that would ensure safety for all, MORE-UFT have already made clear our emphatic rejection of both the substance and process of this deal. Not only did the closed-door negotiations continue the historical disenfranchisement of parents, students, and rank and file teachers in decision making about our schools, but the deal itself also fails to substantively address our long-standing equity, safety, and staffing concerns about re-opening.
We therefore urge the UFT to use the continued threat of a job action to demand a fully remote beginning to the school year until rank-and-file membership approves a comprehensive re-opening plan that responds to the concerns of rank and file teachers, parents, and students.
1. The undemocratic nature of the negotiations reveal the inequities inherent within mayoral control of the school system, and top-down management of the UFT.
We reject that students, family members, and rank and file teachers were given no voice in the negotiations to re-open schools.
First, we demand an end to mayoral control, a system that, by denying community stakeholders access to negotiate in their schools’ reopening, renders them both invisible and disposable by the mayor and union leaders. An elected school board would be a move toward equity in big city educational decision making by providing the opportunity for regions of the city that have historically been ignored to state their educational concerns regarding school reopening while locating viable alternatives that are responsive to community’s needs.
Second, we demand that the Unity Caucus of the UFT reverse its long-standing tendency to negotiate behind closed doors, without rank-and-file input, and inform members of the results with little to no time for debate or questions. A vote of the Delegate Assembly, after 12 minutes of questions (from an over 3000 member body) is representative of the lack of transparency and debate the Unity Caucus historically demonstrates with contract negotiations.
2. The announced plan does nothing to address the egregious lack of funding. No manner of reopening plans will be able to be executed and sustained without fully funded schools, plus additional funding for the pandemic. Every aspect of a school reopening plan must require proof of funding from Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo.
We reject that this deal does nothing to address chronic historical underfunding of our schools, the recent already-imposed budget cuts over the summer, nor Governor Cuomo’s impending proposed 20% across the board cuts. These austerity measures have already hampered schools’ abilities to provide healing and quality education to their students, and the potential for the additional loss of 9,000 school-based staff as a result of Governor Cuomo’s budget cuts would leave schools utterly unable to meet social distancing requirements much less provide quality education for our students.
While the CSA rightly highlighted the impossibility of appropriately staffing the Blended Learning model in their open letter two weeks ago, neither the UFT nor the CSA won any demands in the deal to alleviate this crisis nor did they address impending layoffs. A united front of the UFT and CSA would have the power to tip the scales and get the full funding our schools have always deserved and especially need in order to meet this crisis head on. Unfortunately, neither union leadership took up this battle.
3. The announced plan does not adequately protect our health and safety.
Most egregiously, we reject that this deal includes in-person, instructional lunches while the Mayor continues to ban in-person dining at restaurants in the city. To the Mayor we say: our lives matter just as much as diners at restaurants across the city; if it is not safe for them, it is not safe for us.
Second, given that many people infected with the disease do not display symptoms, and that asymptomatic carriers pass the disease similarly to those with symptoms, we reject the idea that monthly random sampling of 10-20% of building occupants is an adequate safeguard. We demand the UFT return to their original position that all students and staff entering school buildings would be tested for COVID before entering school buildings.
Third, we reject that the deal does nothing to address the variability of infection rates across the city. The citywide percentage of positive tests, which will trigger full remote if it goes above 3% on a 7-day rolling average, is much lower than the rates in the predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods from which New York City public school students predominantly come, as was dramatically illustrated by the recent outbreak in Sunset Park. We demand that schools policies be governed by the positivity rate in their neighborhood, not the city-wide average; it does a student living and attending school in the South Bronx no good if people in Park Slope are not being infected, and neither should it impact whether they are obliged to go to school in-person.
Fourth, we reject that staff are being asked to return to buildings without having seen the 50-point inspection report that is supposedly the linchpin of the UFT’s safety plan. While President Mulgrew has claimed that if any point is not met, we will not return to schools, the reports received by schools are often full of questions left as blank, “Unsure”, or “Unable to assess”. This is not the rigor or clarity that we were promised.
4. While Chancellor Carranza has repeatedly spoken about the importance of Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Education throughout his tenure, and especially during the COVID crisis, this deal does nothing to make that a reality in schools across the city.
As teachers who seek to embody the fight for racial justice in our everyday practice, we understand the need to fight to ensure that our students, families, coworkers, and loved ones do not face further trauma and loss. We know that this pandemic disproportionately impacts Black and Latinx communities, and understand our response to it as a practice of racial justice for our students and their families. Without substantial and obligatory training, many teachers will not be able to fill this need for their students, and we reject that the announced deal does nothing to make good on Chancellor Carranza’s repeated promises.
Further, we reject that the plan did not take action to decriminalize our school entry, halls and classrooms to interrupt the school to prison pipeline. NYPD will still meet our students at the door with metal detectors, students will be punished for not wearing PPE. We call for police free schools and restorative justice to de-escalate community conflicts, to end policing of students, and to support students who struggle with new health protocols and/or the effects of historic systemic racism, marginalization and state abandonment. Divest from punitive punishment and invest in school based resources, counselors, nurses, and other community based practitioners to build safety in our school.
5. This deal did not address the inherent pedagogical concerns of the blended model.
We reject the premise of the Mayor’s argument that we need to rush to return to in-person instruction during the pandemic. The deal (and sensible safety measures) require that students will return to learning environments that resemble isolation wards in hospitals, with strict rules and intense PPE. This will be both traumatizing for our young students, and developmentally impossible for them to follow social distancing guidelines for six hours. For our older students, we ask how they will be expected to concentrate if they are in the same seat, wearing a mask for six hours a day. Moreover, a central claim of the push for in-person learning has been that students are missing out on socialization, but we ask what is the quality of the quality of socialization through PPE and across six feet?
Further, we reject that this deal has done nothing to address the innumerable questions of how blended instruction will actually work. Some of our most urgent questions are:
- What are schools who do not have enough staff to provide three different teachers for each subject area every day?
- What will in-person instruction look like if teachers and students must remain six feet apart from one another?
- What measures have been put in place to ensure remote learning is equitably accessible for all students?
- What measures have been put in place to avoid surveillance measures, such as monitoring student activity and disabling chat or communication functions, that would increasingly police students in digital learning environments?
We demand answers to these questions before we return to school buildings.
6. This deal did not address the childcare needs of educators or families.
The deal reached between the UFT and the Mayor De Blasio does nothing to address child care needs of parents and teachers. With Learning Bridges ending Friday, September 4th, there will be no childcare options left for teachers and other workers for the 10 days between teachers starting and students returning to buildings? The mayor has promised 100,000 seats for workers who need childcare during times when their children are not in school buildings, but no details have been released. It is clear that no plan is in place to help our parents and teachers.
Regardless of how much we want to return to our beloved classrooms, schools are not ready to physically reopen. We are sending our students and educators into enclosed school buildings for prolonged periods, with insufficient ventilation, maskless lunch periods, and too many unanswered questions whose consequences can be fatal. We reject that school staff and students are the guinea pigs of returning to prolonged in-person contact, and so we say to Mr. Mulgrew as our representative, go back to the negotiating table, and fight for all of the things you always should have!