Some NYC school teachers are still unconvinced the city can safely reopen the entire school system for in-person learning this month, despite the United Federation of Teachers and city Department of Education agreeing to delay in-person learning for an extra 11 days.
"These were not what our demands were," said Jeffery White, a special education teacher in Sunset Park, the Brooklyn neighborhood that saw a spike in COVID-19 cases early this month. "No matter what we do in these next two weeks, it's not going to be enough to address all the concerns that we have been advocating for and demanding throughout these past few months."
White, who is a member of the subset activist group called Movement of Rank and File Educators Caucus UFT, and was part of a protest march to the home of Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza in July, told Gothamist that the outrage among the rank and file is directed at UFT President Michael Mulgrew and his agreement with the city. White said the members of his group are largely concerned over what they say is an inadequate supply of personal protective equipment, lack of aggressive ventilation checks, and little guarantees that professionally certified nurses and grief counselors will be at every public school.
"It was more so a dictatorship than a democracy. And he spoke for us without all of our concerns being met and listened to," said White, referring to Mulgrew. White had pushed for full remote learning this school year, adhering to a strategy already embraced by other larger school districts from around the country.
Under the deal announced on Tuesday, schools will reopen for in-person learning on September 21st, a full 11 days from Mayor Bill de Blasio's original date of September 10th. Randomized testing of 10-20% of each school's student and staff population will begin on October 1st, with parents having to consent for their child tested by medical personnel. The added layer of safety protocols complements the city's School Ventilation Action Teams initiative, with engineers and ventilation experts assessing airflow in classrooms across all 1,600 public school buildings by the end of Tuesday. Information on the outcome of each school is expected to be made publicly available on September 4th.
While in-person classes will be delayed for a number extra days -- a decision that also averts the threat of a possible teachers' strike -- teachers hope the DOE uses that time wisely to answer some outstanding questions.
"I'm relieved to not have to strike," said Nadia Ponce, an educator in her eighth year teaching high school. "But I think there's still a lot of questions that haven't been answered or like things that haven't been totally fleshed out. What do we do if students refuse to wear their mask or refuse to maintain social distance? Like a lot of people, I saw those images of how they were checking ventilation in schools. Is that protocol changing at all? So I think that we have more time to get those questions answered. But if those questions aren't answered, then it's kind of just for show that we're delayed."
Another educator, who teaches in Brooklyn and who asked not to be named, saw the resolution between the UFT and the DOE as a "tremendous relief," noting that the delayed time should be used wisely.
"I'm of the party that wants to go back in. I don't want anyone to get sick. I don't want anyone to die," said the teacher. "I understand all of the safety concerns and I think that that needs to be addressed by our committee leadership. That being said, I feel like, once again, teachers have been thrown to the wolves in a way where this was a decision that was falling on myself, my family, my income. My job security."
Rachel, a high school teacher in the Lower East Side who is also the parent of a public school student, called this a "pretend solution," since it doesn't take into account the larger issue of entering a building that she contends was already unsafe before the pandemic.
"People are acting as if a week, an extra week is somehow going to solve something that they've already had six months to address and it hasn't gotten solved," said Rachel, who noted that that reopening will not ideally work regardless of the added safety measures, because she doubts it will be possible for children to maintain social distancing.
Her lack of confidence in the school's plan has prompted her to keep her daughter at home.
"Remote learning was absolutely awful for her," said Rachel of her daughter's experience. "But I would rather that she struggle with anxiety than contribute to our family or any other family's death because we're really talking about people dying."