#schoolsafety | Parents, Students, Taxpayers and Administration Tell YPS Teachers and Staff—Come Back to School!!

YPS Superintendent Dr. Edwin Quezada, above wants students and staff back in school September 8. YFT President Samantha Rosado-Ciriello, below, wants students to learn online for Septebmer and return in October

                The Yonkers Public Schools (YPS), are scheduled to open on September 6 with a hybrid type model of learning that has most students coming into schools 2 days per week, with online learning 3 days per week. The reopening plan was released by YPS Superintendent Dr. Edwin Quezada and Board of Education President Steve Lopez on July 31.

                Those plans are now in jeopardy as the Yonkers Federation of Teachers, (YFT) and the other two bargaining units in the YPS have suggested a different way of returning to school next month. In a statement released on August 7, the three YPS unions suggested that all students remain home for the month of September and that hybrid learning in all schools begin in October. The joint statement included an allegation that the unions were not involved in the process of creating a back to school plan in the YPS.

                Parents and taxpayers were surprised and outraged by the request by the YFT, and as a result, accusations of misconduct have come forward that many Yonkers teachers were not teaching their students in online classes in the spring.  These accusations have come directly from parents on Social Media, but also from sources within the YPS administration and from educators who were disappointed in the unprofessional attitude of their colleagues.

                The letter and statement from the YFT, CSEA and YCA reads in part, “Local unions representing educators and school staff in Yonkers Public Schools today demanded the district coordinate with staff on responsible safety protocols before schools reopen.  To date, district officials have engaged in virtually no coordination with labor leaders on its reopening plan.” 

YFT President Samantha Rosado-Ciriello said, “Yonkers Public Schools officials refused to share their plan with any of the three unions representing district employees until after it was submitted to the State and posted on their website. That is completely unacceptable. Our members and the students we serve deserve better than this.  We have less than four weeks to work things out and then we will have to consider what our options are.”

Superintendent Quezada, in his letter, provided evidence that all of the unions were involved in the reopening plan and that Rosdao Ciriello’s claim was “inaccurate.” “From mid-June through July there were 9 meetings with our union officials, 3 with the YFT, 4 with the CSEA and 2 with the YCA. Clearly, there was no refusal to share information. Given its scope, comprehensiveness and only 3 weeks from the time school districts received the NYSED and Department of Health guidelines and assurances to develop plans, The Plan was not finalized until the July 31 deadline. Therefore, it was not feasible to provide it beforehand,” writes Quezada, who reminds the unions that a planning committee made up of six stakeholders was created in May, that included all three unions and that fact is included in the final Re-opening plan submitted to the State Department of Education, on pg. 10.

                “On May 12, 2020, Dr. Edwin Quezada, Superintendent of Schools, announced the creation of six stakeholder planning committees to collaboratively research, discuss, and construct the best approach to address concerns and implement strategies to reopen schools. The six committees [Academic, Operations, Emotional Support, Health and Safety, Special Populations and Communication] completed their research and work between May 18 and June 9, 2020.” Each committee included representation from every key stakeholder group. This highly inclusive approach included participants selected by the official organization/union representing those stakeholders: 7 Trustees, 18 Central Office administrators, 18 School/YCA administrators, 36 Teachers/YFT, 18 CSEA, 18 Parents/Yonkers Council of PTAs and 40 students. These committees met a total of 38.5 hours over 26 days. The feedback gathered was disseminated to each committee member. The Plan was developed with this feedback.”

                Quezada added in his letter that the plan came from stakeholders “equally across all stakeholder groups. The issues and concerns of parents and families, or those of unrepresented employees, are just as valid and compelling as the concerns of staff represented by unions. It is not in the formulation of a reopening plan, but in its implementation, given its potential effect on terms and conditions of employment, that labor unions status must be recognized through impact bargaining. That status has and will continue to be duly recognized. Multiple meetings with our unions have already been scheduled,” wrote Quezada.

The YFT, CSEA, and YCA submitted a four phase approach to reopening: Keep student learning online and bring back staff in September, have teachers meet with families and students before opening, welcome back students in October, and continue to reassess.

Dr. Quezada responded to each of the four phases, stating that the unions, “four-phase approach to reopening Yonkers’ school buildings, offers some insightful recommendations and some insurmountable challenges.”

Phase I-Bring Back Staff in September—”The District is in total agreement that all staff should be in their assigned school building on September 1. The Superintendent’s Conference Days are built into the school calendar for this purpose. As outlined in The Plan’s Hybrid and Online Remote Instruction models, staff in school buildings is essential. It ensures efficient and effective student instruction across content area subjects and coursework and the delivery of student services,” writes Quezada.

It is important to note this part of Quezada’s letter, which was underscored by other stakeholders to Yonkers Rising. “The teachers will be coming back to school in September, with or without students,” said one educator. “While a great many of Yonkers teachers did their job online from home, others took advantage and either didn’t work with the students in a productive way online or didn’t choose to learn or educate themselves about online learning. Some did not show up for work online and because of that, they should have to come back to school on September 8 and work online from in school.”

Phase 2-Proposal: Teachers and students and family meet individually to discuss the school year. “To “individually” meet students and families may be desirable during these challenging times. Unfortunately, it is impractical and inequitable for our families without technology and/or connectivity or the resources to physically come to a school. As noted in The Plan, this outreach will be accomplished daily by school personnel. Hybrid Instruction, which is how we plan to begin on September 8, has Flex Day Wednesday built into the students and teachers weekly schedules to accommodate this work,” writes Quezada.

Quezada’s reasoning that teachers cannot meet with 27,000 students and one of their parents, in two weeks or two months, underscores the rationale for returning students to school in September. “I understand that some Yonkers teachers are hesitant to come back, but many parents in Yonkers need the help. Their children aren’t learning, and the family is stressed out.  Many have not participated at all in online learning. The parents are too busy working and trying to keep a roof over their heads,” said one Yonkers teacher.

Phase 3-Proposal: Welcome back students to school in October.  “According to the unions, they are suggesting phasing in in-person instruction by providing only Online Remote Instruction in September and Hybrid Instruction beginning in October. This approach would exacerbate the existing detrimental impact on our students resulting from the loss of three months without in-person instruction coupled with the adverse impact on their social-emotional growth and development.”

Quezada also explained that the YPS must get approval by the NYS Education Department, whether they would approve phasing in in-person instruction as suggested by the unions.  Currently 180 instructional days are required for students, and online learning at home for September could impact the number of holidays and the Foundation Aid received by the State.  “Possible furloughing of dedicated hardworking school-based CSEA employees because children are not in school. This may include nurses, school safety officers, clericals, aides, bus monitors, food service workers, among others. Many of these employees reside in the City of Yonkers,” writes Quezada.

While the YFT letter points to a poll in which 40% of parents don’t want their students to go back to school, the majority of parents and students in the Yonkers Public Schools want to go back and have accepted Quezada and Lopez’s plan.  And a Supermajority of Taxpayers in Yonkers want teachers to go back to school with students in September. You can also include several Police officers and other city personnel that we have spoke to, who are considered “essential workers” and have been working on the front line for more than six months.  

They also want the teachers to come back. “It’s time for them to come back. Our COVID numbers are way down. We’ve been out in the streets for six months, and the kids need to be in school,” said one Yonkers cop.

The one way in which the YFT could be successful is if Governor Andrew Cuomo decides to implement a month of online learning for every school in New York State. Some school districts, and teachers’ unions, here in Westchester, (New Rochelle for one), and in New York City, have suggested the same. And the powerful NY State Teachers United Teachers, NYSUT, certainly has the Governor’s ear.

But let’s be clear: the parents, students, taxpayers, and essential workers want the teachers back in class, with students, September 8. We promised several parents we spoke to that we would share their child’s disappointing online learning experience this spring, one of which included a vacation to Florida in the middle of COVID, and the school year.

Email us your story if you have one, in confidence, to dmurphy@risingmediagroup.com and stay tuned for Part II.

And for those families who have indicated they want only online remote Instruction for their child starting in September, the Yonkers Public Schools is offering this option. Parents/Guardians must complete & submit a registration by 5:00PM Fri 8-21-20. A separate form must be submitted for each child. Visit  https://www.yonkerspublicschools.org/remote-only-registration.

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