STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — The union that represents New York City teachers announced that no school in all five boroughs should open during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic unless it meets all criteria in the union’s School Safety Report released Wednesday — which sets standards for cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment (PPE), testing and more.
“While our members want to be back in their classrooms, the safety of our students, their families and our staff comes first,” United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Michael Mulgrew said. “Working with medical experts, we have created a set of health and safety standards we will apply to every building. Any school that fails to meet these guidelines should be off-limits to children, parents and teachers until the problems are corrected.”
SAFETY STANDARDS FOR EACH SCHOOL
The UFT has trained 100 staff members to evaluate schools, which have already started reviewing more than 1,400 school buildings.
The trained staffers are checking for health and safety measures that include: the presence of a school nurse; six-foot separation between student desks; sufficient masks and other PPE; working ventilation systems to reduce the concentration of air-borne virus particle; and an isolation/quarantine room for students who develop symptoms of infection.
“It is time that all city schools receive the same support and meet the same criteria — so that all children, all teachers, all parents, will understand whether their school is ready to open safely in the health challenge that we all face,” Mulgrew said.
He pointed to the individual school plans that were submitted to the city, which included key site-specific contacts and safety measures.
Mulgrew said schools should have a more in-depth plan on the entrances and exits students will use, who will use school buses and take public transportation, and what happens when someone in the school has COVID-19 symptoms.
*** CLICK HERE FOR COMPLETE COVERAGE OF CORONAVIRUS IN NEW YORK ***
Once a school has the proper supplies and procedures in place, it would move on to the screening and testing phase of reopening, Mulgrew said.
The union is strongly recommending that adults and children should receive antibody testing. If a person doesn’t have antibodies, he or she should be required to receive a negative diagnostic COVID-19 test 10 days prior to the start of school in order to return to a school building. Those who test positive for coronavirus would attend school remotely.
“What happened in March cannot happen again inside this city,” Mulgrew said. “…We are asking the mayor to adopt this school safety report. It is time. We can no longer have parents and all those who work in school suffering trying to make a very difficult decision.”
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten said that the UFT has been working since April about how to reopen schools that “would really work for children, would really work for educators.”
“What the UFT has proposed here, right now, is so important and so profound,” she said. “They have three basic issues here. One was obviously was the community spread, which Gov. Cuomo and others have talked about. Two is this safety report card, which others have talked about. But third is this point that the doctors, Michael Mulgrew and others have talked about today, which is so important, that kind of robust, testing, tracing and isolation situation. Because without it, even if you open, how do you stay open?”
Weingarten said without testing and tracing, there will be a risk of another outbreak.
SHOULD SCHOOLS OPEN SEPT. 10?
When asked how schools will be able to open with the new testing procedures under the union’s plan, Mulgrew said he doesn’t believe it’s possible for schools to open on the tentative first day of school on Sept. 10.
“Even without the testing piece, it is our judgment at this point, as well as the principal’s union, that if you open schools on September 10th, it might be one of the biggest debacles in the history of the city,” Mulgrew explained.
The union is urging all parents to opt for remote learning until the city Department of Education (DOE) notifies them that their child’s school meets the procedural and testing standards outlined in the safety report, even if it means delaying the opening of some schools.
If a school is not deemed safe, Mulgrew said the union is prepared to go to court and to take action — even if the court determines they are breaking the Taylor Law, which defines the rights and limitations of unions for public employees in New York. That means the union could go on strike, Mulgrew said.
“If a court determines we are breaking the Taylor Law, so be it,” he said. “We have promised the teachers and the parents of New York City that we would stand and fight if we felt a school was unsafe, and that is a promise we are going to keep.”
Miranda Barbot, a spokeswoman for the DOE, called Wednesday’s announcement “fear mongering.”
“We spend hours a day, literally, talking to the UFT about policies and procedures and have delivered on a robust and practical testing protocol, a nurse in every building, and a 30-day supply of PPE for every school,” Barbot said. “We have the most comprehensive and rigorous plan in the country, coupled with record-low infection rates. When we see a full plan that is rooted in data and science, we’ll review it — until then, it seems like they just don’t want to say the quiet part out loud: they don’t want to open schools at all for students and families.”
The DOE said over the course of negotiations, the UFT hasn’t asked for required testing for teachers and has expressed agreement with encouraging testing for teachers in line with the city’s reopening plan.
According to the DOE’s reopening plan, schools will not reopen if the community transmission rate is above 3% on a seven-day rolling average.
Under the current plan, public school classrooms will be closed and teachers and students are quarantined and transition to remote leaving if there is one case of the coronavirus in that cohort. If two cases are found in different classrooms at the school, the school will close and all staff and students will be quarantined and moved to remote learning.
“The only way we are going to get through the coronavirus crisis is by working together to keep each other safe,” Mulgrew said. “The best safeguards for the health of our children, their families and our staff are strong procedures and protections, enough supplies and equipment, and rigid enforcement of testing and tracing measures. We will do what we have to do to keep our kids and our families safe.”
Sending your kids back to school? Tips from experts on how to keep them safe.
Coronavirus: Reopening plans for Staten Island charter schools
NYC teachers push for schools to stay closed come fall
2020-2021 school year in NYC: Guidelines on gym, music and more
Coronavirus: How NYC plans to safely reopen schools in fall
2020-2021 academic year: Reopening plans for schools across Staten Island
NYC schools reopening: State guidelines for special education
The Catholic elementary school reopening plan: Face masks, temperature checks and more
NYC schools reopening: Transportation plan for students remains unclear
2020-2021 academic year: Reopening plans for schools across Staten Island
Returning to school: NYC to improve air circulation in classrooms
With or without air conditioning, face masks will be required in Staten Island classrooms
FOLLOW ANNALISE KNUDSON ON FACEBOOK AND TWITTER.