FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE May 24, 2021 Press Contact: Media@morecaucusuft.org
New York, New York: MORE-UFT Caucus released the following response to the Mayor’s and Chancellor’s announcement today regarding school in September of 2021.
Today principals, school communities and families found out about major reopening plans on national news without warning or prior communication yet again. This remains an unacceptable way to communicate important education policy initiatives that affect 1.1 million students, 150,000 school-based staff, and their families.
The Mayor’s announcement that school buildings will be fully open in the fall with no remote option was short on detail and transparency. Although remote learning has not fully met the needs of many students, we must recognize that 60% of families opted to remain remote the entirety of this school year for many reasons, and those families’ concerns need to be counted. This top-down announcement begs the question: Are the Mayor and Chancellor taking the essential tasks of building trust and integrating community input seriously?
We have many unanswered questions, and we know students, staff, and families do too:
- Class size: The Mayor and Chancellor made no mention of class size. Especially given the loss and trauma of the pandemic, small classes are the best way to ensure all our students’ needs are met and will give all families confidence that returning to school buildings is safe. Will small classes be funded and prioritized? Is there a plan to hire more staff members and incorporate more physical space for smaller class sizes at all 1700+ city schools?
- Staffing: The Chancellor’s letter described additional “supports” for students and families such as school nurses and summer school, but made no mention of school counselors and social workers. Will every school have a counselor and social worker to support staff and our students?
- Social Distancing: The announcement from Chancellor Porter states that students and staff will not be required to vaccinate prior to returning to school in the fall. The Mayor’s announcement was also not clear on social distancing this fall, stating he expected the CDC to change guidelines prior to the fall. With children under 12 still not vaccinated as of September, will 32+ children be crowded into classrooms without any distancing? Will full in-person plans be changed if our classrooms do not allow for social distancing according to CDC health guidelines?
- Testing, Tracing, and Quarantines: The Mayor shared that COVID cases will be tracked and the Situation Room will remain up and running. Will classrooms continue to close in the event of COVID cases? Will 20% of students/staff continue to be tested weekly at schools? Is there capacity with NYC Test and Trace to test students and staff if they fully return in-person, and will rapid tests be used? What steps will be taken for COVID cases in schools? Will unvaccinated students/staff still be required to quarantine for 10 days if exposed to or test positive for COVID19, and will there be a remote option for those students and staff who are quarantined? Will classes maintain a pod/cohort structure to limit exposure given that middle/high schools students typically switch classrooms?
- Ventilation: The Mayor claimed every classroom will be adequately ventilated but the necessary structural upgrades still haven’t been made in many classrooms. When will ventilation upgrades happen? Will there be an updated Safety Checklist with funding for upgrades, renovations, changing MERV13 and other filters construction costs directly tied to violations?
- Vulnerable families: There is still missing information on how effective vaccines are for some categories of immunosuppressed people. How will these immunosuppressed individuals and their families be accommodated?
- Trauma-informed: The Chancellor’s letter promised school will be “welcoming” in the Fall, but what specifically is being planned to make school welcoming, given that the majority of our students remain fully remote as of today? What will the city do to make this year restorative and support students’ and staff’s mental health? Will there be funding set aside for arts and nature programs? Will teachers be given autonomy and resources to spend time on social emotional learning?
- Change in plans: Will this full in-person reopening plan be changed if COVID rates increase? If so, at what COVID19 rate threshold would schools return to limited capacity, and what forms (hybrid, fully remote, etc.) would that take?
Without clear logistics, transparency, and community input from stakeholders, the students, staff, and families of NYC schools have every reason to distrust the DOE’s plans to fully reopen schools. These questions and others need to be answered by the Mayor and Chancellor before students and staff can feel confident about returning safely in-person in September.
See this press release at https://docs.google.com/document/d/14iog6A-dLjXtBa7pwcCU6cZyljEOo5UD7mb2u1d0WT4/edit?usp=sharing