MORE-UFT: School Buildings Should Be Closed Right Now

Amidst spiking COVID cases around the world; the confirmed emergence of a more infectious variant of the coronavirus; record-breaking airplane travel, which experts predict will accelerate the alarming rise in cases; 49 zip codes across NYC at or about 10% positivity rate; and numerous school district closures across New York for the reasons above—New York City 3K-5 educators were still required to report to school buildings today

Meanwhile, despite the best efforts of rank-and-file union activists, the DOE has offered little support for the Black and Brown parents and families that make up the core of the DOE’s constituency. Tens of thousands of students still lack remote learning equipment, and the DOE has not provided the resources and support for developing high-quality remote instruction that it promised. Through persisting in reopening buildings during this exceptionally high-risk period, Mayor de Blasio is yet again catering to the demands of a group of largely upper-middle class white families, at the expense of the majority of students and school staff. 

Over the summer, the mayor promised a 3% positivity rate would close the schools. Now Mayor de Blasio is requiring educators to return to the buildings, when the city’s 7-day positivity rate reached 9.39% on Saturday, January 2nd. Clearly we cannot trust the mayor at his word. This dangerous inconsistency points to the need for democratic leadership over NYC Public Schools. As we, our colleagues and students, return this week, we fear for the safety and wellbeing of our school communities. We are well aware the federal leadership has only stifled the dissemination of the vaccine; however, school staff should not be asked to return to unsafe working conditions during what will be the pandemic’s most dangerous period without the opportunity to receive the vaccine. The mayor must stop treating school staff and families as expendable commodities for the sake of his status with a few white, wealthy families. He has already put too many families and workers’ health and safety at risk, while neglecting the needs the most vulnerable communities he claims to prioritize. 

With 7,007 positive results from  school testing since September, UFT must make a strong case to fully shift to and improve Remote Learning for the majority of students. Yet again, rather than listening to our calls throughout the spring and summer to make ventilation (among other) improvements, UFT has instead spent time and energy creating propaganda videos claiming the work now being done on school ventilation systems makes the schools COVID safe in NYC.  Actually, they are restoring these systems to provide ventilation at the rate that they were originally designed to produce.  As Industrial Hygienist Monona Rossol, who wrote the December AFT Ventilation Basics newsletter, explains “[schools] will now meet the ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers) 62.1 standard for indoor air quality — a level ASHRAE states clearly is NOT sufficient to mitigate conditions now.” In addition she says, some of the old natural ventilation systems being reopened “may have been disabled deliberately because they are fire hazards. The ducts that lead to the roof will also transfer smoke and flame up through the building like a chimney if not dampered in some way.” As if working in lousy conditions for decades was not a clear enough message from UFT that our health is not their concern, another late Sunday night email from Mulgrew further confirms that rather than improving our and our students actual safety, UFT has again put saving face in front of saving lives.

Another term passes and MORE-UFT Caucus’ Health Justice Agenda for NYC Public Schools goes unread by UFT officials. The Mayor continues to prioritize the demands of small groups of largely wealthy constituents and only pay lip service to our city’s most vulnerable communities. This must change and we need our union to stand with us.

Our health justice agenda includes  a detailed vision for health-centered, fully resourced schools where  endowed with full time nurses, mental health service providers, and wrap-around services to replace NYPD presence in school during and after the COVID19 pandemic. 

The Movement Of Rank and File Educators’ Health Justice Working Group supports potential sick outs or strikes until the following demands are met:

  • Close school buildings (except for those that could be used for 5-day-a-week REC support) immediately shift all classes to remote format until all staff have had the opportunity to be vaccinated. 
  • Stabilize District 75 and meet all IEP requirements immediately 
  • Provide full time, five-day-a-week childcare for families that need it through REC Centers immediately, fully staffed with service providers and wraparound services for families. 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.
  • Guaranteed WiFi for ALL public school families before Jan. 31st, 2021
  • Provide ongoing training for adjusting curricula to support diverse learners to be truly inclusive for students with disabilities and language learners, culturally responsive and sustaining methods, healing centered / SEL / TI methods. Train Educators in methodologies that encourage engagement through relationship building (avoid surveillance tactics).
  • Divest funds from high stakes testing contracts to providing Internet Access for NYC Public School families, beginning with those in most need. 
  • Divest funds from NYPD contract to hiring more counselors, violence interrupters and training for all school staff in SEL, healing centered practices. 
  • 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. 

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