Are New York City Schools Opening in September? Principal and Teacher Unions Are Doubtful

This has not been a good week for the Richard Carranza, the NYC School Chancellor.

The light at the end of the tunnel might be an oncoming locomotive.

New York City has a $9 billion deficit this fiscal year and serious deficits over the next few years; layoffs, unemployment, a loss of services, homelessness, a bleak future facing the city unless the city “re-opens,” and let’s add “reopens safely.”

A report  from the NYC Independent Budget Office (IBO) concludes,

New York City is facing nearly unprecedented challenges as it struggles to maintain budget balance, protect vital services, and provide a safe and healthy environment for individuals who want to live, work, or visit here.

While the contagion rate (# of positive tests) remains very low in New York it is surging across the country.  The states that reopened too soon are seeing staggering surges in COVID contagion.

See NYS contagion rate here, Florida here, Texas here and California here.

Reopening businesses, and let’s add “safely” will increase tax revenues and ease the impact of the ballooning deficit, Reopening too quickly, without proper safeguards, as we have seen in the states above drives states into reversing reopening or risk the pandemic becoming an epidemic.

Reopening schools allows workers to return to work without the seeking out childcare and clearly is preferable to remote learning.

The unanswerable question: will the reopening of schools lead to another wave of virus contagion?

New York State, after bickering between the governor, the New York City mayor and the Board of Regents released an 145-page Reopening plan and the New York State Department of Health issued a plan, both extremely detailed.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also issued revised guidance, “Preparing K-12 School Administrator for a Safe Return to Schools in Fall 2020″ that waffled, was the guidance requirements or suggestions?

Every school district must file a school opening plan by July 31,

Pursuant to the Department of Health’s Interim Guidance for In-Person Instruction at Pre-K to Grade 12 Schools during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, schools must develop individual plan(s) for reopening and operating during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Each plan must meet the minimum standards set forth in the guidance and reflect engagement with school stakeholders and community members, including but not limited to administrators, faculty, staff, students, parents/legal guardians of students, local health departments, local health care providers, and, where appropriate, affiliated organizations (e.g., union, alumni, and/or community-based groups). Specifically, each school must prepare and submit to the State, a plan that, at minimum, covers: (1) reopening of school facilities for in-person instruction, (2) monitoring of health conditions, (3) containment of potential transmission of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19), and (4) closure of school facilities and in-person instruction, if necessitated by widespread virus transmission.

Plans should be presumed to be approved upon submission, unless otherwise notified by the State that modifications are necessary to ensure compliance with this guidance. Schools must conspicuously post completed reopening plans at the school and on their website for faculty, staff, students, and parents and legal guardians of students to access. For additional information, please consult the interim guidance.

The entire process works under the assumption that schools are reopening, and, contains troubling language, containment of potential transmission of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19), and closure of school facilities and in-person instruction, if necessitated by widespread virus transmission.

 Aside from social distancing, mask wearing and entry temperature-taking, how can schools address “containment of potential transmission”?  And, most troubling, schools can only be closed if “widespread virus transmission” occurs. Is the implication that a few cases of positive COVID transmission are acceptable?

 The plans must include the stakeholders, including the teacher, supervisor and other school personnel unions.

On a Town Hall meeting with teachers union (UFT) Michael Mulgrew was pessimistic about school opening; he said the odds are 60-40 against opening due to unaddressed safety concerns. Listen to Mulgrew here

The leader of the principals union (CSA), in a letter to his membership was scathing: lack personnel in the schools, ignoring principal input, unaddressed safety concerns, faulty and inadequate instructional models, the principal’s union is usually far gentler in criticizing their “boss.” Read sections of the principal union president letter here

An excellent chronology of the school opening saga, “What We Know So Far,” in the Gothamist website is helpful. Read here.

The Republicans in the Senate appear to have settled their internal differences and Senate leader McConnell hints that a Senate version of the House HEROES bill may be introduced in a few days; it looks like both the Democratic House bill and the Republican Senate bill contains substantial aid to schools and local and state governments. See Chamber of Commerce pro-school aid letter here

If so, an infusion of dollars can help cities to provide what is necessary to ease some fears over a school reopening.

Suggestions that schools begin in an all-remote mode and slowly move to a hybrid model makes sense; however, sense is frequently overridden by politics.

On one side of the scale, continuing an economic recovery, on the other side the safety of students and staffs, and, policymakers trying to immunize themselves from public scorn and elective retribution.

The “wrong” decision will result in school staff members and children dying.

Can you weigh reducing unemployment with being complicit in COVID deaths?

Listen Leonard Cohen: You Want It Darker”

2 responses to “Are New York City Schools Opening in September? Principal and Teacher Unions Are Doubtful

  1. Eric Nadelstern

    You don’t encourage teachers to care for, love and respect their students by disrespecting educators and placing their lives at risk.


  2. Mr. Mulgrew’s letter to teachers today sounds like he is leaning more towards opening all buildings.
    The latest developments
    Dear UFT Member,

    I want to thank the thousands of you who participated in our telephone town hall last Tuesday. When we come together as a union to support each other and to fight for what we know is necessary, we are unstoppable, even during this unprecedented crisis.

    City Hall and the Department of Education owe us a comprehensive plan for reopening school buildings. We will carefully analyze that plan to determine if it is safe for our members and our students to return to their buildings in September.

    Because there’s so much going on, I will be regularly communicating with all of you about what we are working on and any new developments.

    Here’s what we have to report:

    Accommodations: The DOE’s reasonable accommodation process is up and running. There is no deadline — you can apply at any time. But we are asking members to apply by July 31 to keep things moving. We worked with the DOE to streamline and speed up the process.
    Ventilation: The DOE now has a budget and a plan for checking building ventilation plans, upgrading air filters, and checking airflow. We have identified school buildings with ventilation systems that may not be adequate and will be inspecting them.
    Other safety measures: The DOE has ordered disinfectants, masks and other supplies and has begun implementing other safety measures, such as new entry protocols and plexiglass partitions for main office and school safety agent desks in common areas. Each school will have a building response team tasked with making sure that schools have the necessary materials and that the agreed-upon protocols and policies are not only in place but being followed.
    Here’s what we are still pressing the DOE to answer for us:

    Accommodations: We are in talks with the DOE about what can be done for UFT members who do not have underlying medical conditions themselves, but who live with and care for those who do. We can’t promise anything, but we clearly understand this concern and are working on it.
    Remote instruction: We are in talks with the DOE about what the remote instructional day looks like and how it will be staffed. Whether we are fully remote or adopt a blended learning model in the fall, remote instruction will account for the majority of most students’ educational time. One group of children will work with the same cadre of remote instructors, but whether those instructors are from the child’s home school or from a more centralized pool of educators is still unclear.
    Testing and tracing: We are working with the DOE, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators and city agencies including NYC Health + Hospitals to establish clear protocols for what happens at a school if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19. Any school building that re-opens will need an isolation room; a school nurse who can trigger the testing and tracking response in the event a child or adult is ill; a communication plan for alerting families and staff; and a clear closure plan. The medical experts we work with are also recommending everyone do two things, regardless of whether we go back into school buildings or not. First, get a flu shot this season. Second, get a COVID antibody test as a baseline.


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