Delay, Delay, Reopening, Possible Remote: Why Not Go Full Remote?

By the Health Justice Working Group of MORE-UFT

NYC parents are forced to make a critical final decision today, Sunday, November 15th 2020 about their children’s education for the rest of this year. Our group of dedicated educators and parents from the MORE-UFT Caucus created a Health Justice Agenda for NYC Public Schools to ensure that our vulnerable would be protected. Our coalition held multiple press conferences over the summer, town halls for parents and students, petitioned, protested, and held public well-attended weekly meetings. Our agenda, while it is a response to communities of color being hit hard by COVID19, is also a detailed vision for health-centered schools where stakeholders want an increase in nurses, mental health service providers, and wrap-around services to replace NYPD presence in school during and after the COVID19 pandemic.

As educators and parents we know the reality of our school’s conditions and so many are not equipped to keep COVID19 out. Some members of our caucus filed a Public Employee Safety and Health Act (PESH) complaint regarding insufficient ventilation in buildings through Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The current situation has been exacerbated by cold weather conditions as many schools rely only on windows for ventilation. The appeal now includes longstanding health concerns in NYC public schools such as a lack of drinking water on certain floors, lead in water, bathrooms etc. The DOE promised that filters would be replaced by October 1st yet they have not yet materialized. The absurdity of opening windows moderately if classrooms are too cold is laughable. Industrial hygienist Monona Rossol has testified that, without information such as air change rates of classrooms, precautions such as using air purifiers and open windows are not enough to ensure adequate ventilation to stop the spread of COVID19 in schools.

We know that there is mayoral control over our schools. In solidarity and in the name of public health we call upon all state lawmakers who are residents of NYC, NYC electeds, and unions DC37 and the UFT to demand that Mayor de Blasio stipulate remote learning for all until June 2021. Union power and the voice of electeds should argue for and protect our students and their families rather than leaving it up to de Blasio and Bill Gates to reimagine schools. With the beginning of a third wave of COVID19 nationally and the end of the eviction moratorium, we know what awaits our community in the Bronx because of what happened in March and April. We must stop schools from becoming sites of community spread of COVID19 this winter. Since the DOE is unable to effectively test and trace students and staff, there is no other option but to have schools go fully remote.

The Movement Of Rank and File Educators Health Justice Working Group demands:
-Shift all classes to remote format until the end of school calendar year.
-Adjust the UFT/DOE-MOU to have 4 days a week classes and 1 day a week planning
-Stabilize District 75 and meet all IEP requirements immediately
-Provide REC Centers immediately fully staffed with service providers and wraparound services for families who need supervision for children.
-Guaranteed WiFi for ALL public school families before Dec. 31st, 2020
-Open optional pathway for educators (teachers, paraprofessional, counselors, OT providers) who want to support REC Centers in person with a financial incentive akin to hazard pay.
-Cancel high stakes testing for the rest of the calendar year to ensure equity.
-Divest funds from high stakes testing contracts to providing Internet Access for NYC Public School families, beginning with those in most need.
-Involve and value the input of CEC parent leaders by working in collaboration with FACE to address the harm that has been caused by constant changes since the school year began.

The DOE must immediately meet these demands to center equity and healing.

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