New York City and the Teacher Union (UFT) Agree to a Delayed Opening: Including Student Testing and Other School Safety Provisions

The second hardest action is getting members to go on strike, the hardest … getting them to end the strike.

As COVID began to ravage the city the teachers’ union demanded schools close,  the mayor refused, vacillated, hesitated, and finally agreed.

75 school-based Department of Education employees died from COVID. The Nation  is sharply critical of the Mayor’s delay in closing schools

… the possibility that the number of deaths could have been reduced by as much as 50 to 80 percent had governments instituted social distancing a week or two earlier, the question of how many school workers could have been saved has haunted New York City educators. For many, the high number of deaths has served as yet more evidence of the great cost educators have paid for what they consider the city’s drawn-out decision to close the public schools. 

As summer progressed the COVID positive rate continued to drop, it is now below 1%, dramatically less than other large cities. The New York State Department of Education released a 149-page School Re-Opening Plan   and the New York State Department of Health issued interim guidance. .

New York City submitted their 109-page re-opening plan .

The Mayor and the Chancellor made it clear; New York City was opening on September 10th in a hybrid model, a combination of in-person and remote instruction.

A bit of arrogance, de Blasio would be the only large city mayor who was not delaying an in-person opening.

The teacher union (UFT) and school leaders were less than enthusiastic; hundreds of school leaders signed letters asking for a delay in school re-opening.

As the days passed it was increasingly clear; the school system was not meeting their promises.

UFT President Mulgrew aggressively began to more than hint, teachers would not be reporting to school until the union was satisfied that schools were safe.

On Monday night (8/31) the Union Executive Board met and authorized the Union officers to take steps towards a strike vote.

The Union had scheduled a virtual Delegates Meeting for Tuesday (9/1).

At the meeting Mulgrew reported that at 8:30, as he was driving to his office, a settlement with the city was reached.

Chalkbeat describes the highlights of the agreement,

 All students will begin a “transition and orientation” period on Sept. 16. Regular coursework will not resume for students in-person or remotely until school buildings reopen on Sept. 21. Teachers … report to buildings on Sept. 8, as previously scheduled.

 The agreement … includes random, monthly testing of staff and students for COVID-19. Officials said 10 to 20% of a school’s population could be randomly tested based on its size. Sampling will happen “in or near” school and will be self-administered — not the more invasive swabs which reach far back into the nasal cavity Parents of students learning in-person will be asked for consent to random testing.

Still, the deal does not include mandatory testing of students and staff before school buildings reopen, something union officials had been demanding. Instead, the city is prioritizing students and teachers at 34 testing sites across the city with results in under 48 hours.

Once random testing begins on Oct. 1, any student who declines to be tested will be switched to fully-virtual instruction, union officials said, and staff members who refuse will be placed on unpaid leave.

The Union tweeted the highlights of the agreement,

We have reached an agreement with City Hall and the Department of Education that meets our demand that the safety of our school communities must come first. Our schools will now reopen in a much better place because of all our work together.

Schools will reopen for staff on Tuesday, Sept. 8, and for students on Monday, Sept. 21.

The decision on whether to reopen a school building to students will be based on the UFT’s 50-item safety plan, including the availability of masks and face shields, a room-by-room review of ventilation effectiveness, an isolation room and a COVID-19 building response team.

Union reps are visiting every school to check that they have these supplies and procedures in place. School buildings or rooms that do not meet safety standards will remain closed.

The city has also agreed to a robust program of repeated random sampling and COVID-19 testing of adults and students present in schools. This new testing program is one of the major pieces that medical experts told us we needed.

  You can listen to the Delegate Assembly here 

The speakers at the meeting were overwhelmingly in favor of the agreement,  and, 82% voted to approve the agreement.

Mulgrew:  if the city failed to live up to the agreement the Union would move directly to Court to force compliance.

Mulgrew and the union comes out as winners, the agreement protects, to the extent possible, school personnel and students, The delayed opening allows schools to figure how to blend the in-person and remote instruction, extremely complex and will vary from school to school.

While the agreement is a major step budget cuts at the state and city level are still hovering.

The insiders are hinting that the White House and the Senate will agree to an iteration of the HEROES bill as we move closer to November 3rd.  Who knows?

3 responses to “New York City and the Teacher Union (UFT) Agree to a Delayed Opening: Including Student Testing and Other School Safety Provisions

  1. I find it reprehensible that The UFT and The Chancellor played this game out 8 days before the opening of school. They had all summer to “make their stands” and show a caring for our kids, and our parents. Of course I honor our teachers, but through no fault of the Teaching workforce does this fiasco reflect upon them. Can anyone imagine the concerns of so many parents who may have had job opportunities lost because they had to recommit to child care, knowing their kids would be home. As for the Chancellor, and his staff,there’s nothing left to say. anyone who has ever worked as a NYC Teacher, or Administrator knows that retirement papers are typically filed in August under normal circumstances we usually see a 10% filing every August. That number has more then doubled because the 55 year olds to 60 year olds who might have wanted to stay teaching, weighed that desire against losing their pension years and lives to Covid. That therefore inflated the normal retirement numbers from 10% to near 20%. Not anticipating this , will lead to vast teacher shortages, even more compounded by the fact that The Mayor has de-funded The Teaching Fellows Program and declared a hiring freeze for everyone but his wife. If all of this sounds Shaekespearian, it should, because Shakespeare was all about tragedy!

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    • $800M in budget cuts equates to many thousands of teachers …. in a “normal” year the city hires 5-7,000 new teachers to replace retirements plus resignations, … retirement numbers are not yet in, while higher than in previous years nowhere near 20% …. there is a hiring freeze because the city might be facing additional cuts, the Union has emphasized safety …. w/o federal dollars layoffs, not new hiring, is a distinct possibility.

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  2. The delay in reaching this agreement falls solely on the DeBlasio administration. I can’t know if the Chancellor was pushing back on the mayor or planning for contingencies, but I suspect he wasn’t focused on the need to be respectful of teachers and give them time to plan.His public statements echoed the Pollyanna-ism of the Mayor and the pictures of his holding a hand over a vent to ensure proper ventilation are examples of the inadequacy of the City’s response. (The issue is not whether you can feel air, but how quickly the air in the room is replenished. You can’t “feel” that key metric.)
    Despite the new agreement the prospect of shut downs in classes, schools, and the system still loom. This will be especially true if there is an uptick in cases in indivdiual neighborhoods or the City as a whole. DeBlasio has not demonstrated that he does not really understand the concerns of teachers or the needs of parents and is simply wanted to sound strong. That is not real leadership or good management. What, pray tell, makes opening schools safe, but makes indoor dining, at reduced number with safety procedures, too dangerous? The simple answer is that there are more parents than restaurant owners.
    The virus doesn’t doesn’t understand or respect politics. It simply looks for hosts to infect so it can reproduce itself. In that respect, it is a mindless enemy not unlike the Trump administration.

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