Schools shifted to remote learning on March 23rd as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and now the head of New York City's powerful teachers union is now pressing local officials to plan for re-opening schools in the fall—but smartly. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo have sparred over who ultimately decides to reopen schools this year. Cuomo is expected to announce whether schools will remain closed for the remainder of the semester on Friday.

In a series of media appearances and a Daily News op-ed, Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, has said he would like to see protocols such as daily temperature checks, frequent hand-washing, and staggered schedules when in-person school attendance is expected to resume in September. He outlined more of his position on Thursday when he spoke to WNYC’s Jami Floyd. Below is an edited and condensed version of their conversation:

Q: In your op-ed in the Daily News you said the city and state could have planned differently for this crisis. Is that why you are beating the drum on planning now for the fall?

That is exactly the reason why I am beating the drum. At the local level, at the state level, at the national level, I hear a lot of conversations about when is the right time to open the schools, but nobody is talking to us about how to open a school, how to keep a school safe. And they’re going to repeat many of the same mistakes by just assuming they know how schools run and just think they can flip on a light switch and students will just show up.

Q: In your mind, how should the school schedule change to help with social distancing? How could that work in the nation’s largest school system, which provides so much more than straight-ahead classroom time for so many families, in terms of extra services, counseling, meals, after-school programs, children with special needs?

We’re breaking it down into four specific issues that we’re looking at. There are safety issues and procedural issues that we never had to think through before. And the other two are how do we use the tools that we have right now to create a hybrid instructional model with in-person and remote-learning plans together? And the last piece is what do we have to do to program all the children? Are we going to have every other day or a half day where some students come in the morning and some in the afternoon? There is no way we can follow social distancing guidelines and bring the entire school population in at one time.

So this is the problem and the frustration when we hear that childcare is so important, which is why we need to open the schools. That’s what elected officials and people need to wake up to.

So does that mean that New York City should be looking at other ways of supplying childcare to essential workers and first responders and frontline workers? Yeah, but right now we believe if the assumption is ‘we’re just going to send them back to school’ it’s not going to work.

Q: You’ve also said that the federal government needs to increase testing before the schools can re-open. By how much and can we get there by September or even October?

We’ve seen a lot of progress recently in the testing but we still have a long way to go. Because every day that the school system is open over 1.4 million human beings are moving around just because of education. So this is the industry in terms of making sure it’s safe that we have to focus on.

Q: The city’s schools are facing more than $800 million in budget cuts. But I’m hearing you say classes need to be smaller to ensure some measure of social distancing or maybe we alternate days, which sounds like we may need more teachers, plus more medical staff on site, not to mention all the concerns about the trauma kids are facing. How do you see schools managing?

We’ve been advocating very fiercely here in the city and coordinating with all of our national leaders...and with our own state congressional delegation. We need one big package at this point. All of these things I’m talking about that the school system is going to take on need to be covered by that package.

Q: No matter what the fall looks like, remote learning will have to be a part of it because there’s a great chance of a resurgence in COVID-19 cases. Based on what you’re seeing now, will the New York City schools be ready for that?

Yes, that I am much more comfortable with at this point. The teachers of New York City and the school communities are probably the foremost experts on how to make this work now.