Last week was lousy. Omicron was raging. I had issues to deal with. Not good. I didn’t write. Not at all.

The long weekend was welcome. And after three days, I’m feeling a little better. I don’t know exactly why, but I’ll make a list of four possibles.

1. Staying on top of a resolution. A book a week. I meant it. And I have been making it. I opened with A Game of Birds and Wolves about women in Britain who joined the naval auxiliary during WWII and worked on war-gaming the battle of the Atlantic. And this week I read Spider Silk: Evolution and 400 Million Years of Spinning, Waiting, Snagging, and Mating, clearly written, organized by evolutionary twists and turns, with nice illustrations. Fascinating. I met one of the authors four years ago, and upon hearing the book broadly described, declared that it reminded me of something one of my favorite authors, John McPhee, might have written, and “of course you have heard of him?” He had been the author’s advisor at Princeton. I can still taste my shoe.

2. I made winter soup. It’s not the right name. I don’t think it has a name. But It is a ponderously heavy concoction of bones and lentils, split peas and barley, with carrots, celery, onion and parsley. With salt and black pepper. On a cold day it warms me from my core, and reminds me of winters growing up…

3. Walks on Saturday and Sunday, one with a twist. Sunday was a nice stretch, a little longer, and quite needed. It was not bitter out. Saturday was bitter. Saturday we batted around ideas for where to go, and settled on a lake in north Jersey, in a park big enough to have trails move away from the (exposed) lake shore. The wind added some bite, and the temperature was low by the water. We passed some people ice fishing, and turned to head away from the water.

We must have missed a turn off and reached a small camping/parking area when we heard a pick up come up behind us. He parked and got out and it wasn’t a ranger. We said hello, and so did he, and we asked what he was doing. Checking his beaver traps. The beavers dam the streams and flood the park and the Parks people think they are a nuisance and this guy gets permits, and comes in and traps. He sells the pelt, and the meat. Beavers are vegetarians, he explained, they taste good. And we explained we were hiking, and he warned us about ice patches under the snow on the trail we were pointing to. It wasn’t snow everywhere, but there were patches, more in come places than in others, so it was a worthwhile warning.

So we move up the trail, a little slowly because of the snow patches, and in case of ice, and we are passing a frozen pond on our left, and we hear something. The trapper who had been fiddling with his equipment by the truck has now caught up with us. His traps, he motions, are on the pond. And my friend wants to follow him, and at first I’m nervous about walking on a frozen pond, but my curiosity got the best of me, and I’m stepping and sliding forward and avoiding weak spots.

We came past something that could have been beaver construction to his first “set.” He showed us the sticks and wires. But the trap was in the water. He pulled out a hatchet to chop through the ice. Now, I’ve never seen a beaver trap before, so I didn’t know what to expect. Those of you who know, it was a Conibear 330. As he chopped through the ice he talked. He was local. He learned to trap from his father who used to trap when he didn’t have work. He plucked out ice chunks, and tried to free the trap, but could not, not yet. This trap (as he continued to chop) had been his father’s – the trap was maybe 70 years old. You pass down your traps, he tells the two of us who have never trapped, with care, like you pass down your guns, he tells us, who own zero guns between the two of us.

And we were not about to see a beaver – he could see the trap had not been tripped. Did it look like jaws? That was my question. No, it’s not a snare. And a few minutes later he almost yanked it out – cleared more ice, and then showed us. It was like a big mouse trap without the base. We wished him luck.

4. Omicron has peaked in NYC. And I’m still negative.

I knew this last Monday or Tuesday, it’s true. The shape of the curve looked like the one from South Africa’s omicron surge, so the timing was about right. And the surge was slowing right before the weekend, so the little drop after was probably more than weekend cases being reported on the wrong day. And I read about the virus load in waste water in Boston (fascinating, look here or at these charts.)

You can also see above the cases dropping (New York State, no City). But you can also see below, the number of people dying is as bad as last winter, which was pretty bad. Want to keep that in mind and be careful how we use the term “mild.”

These words have special meaning within the UFT, today.

It’s a good position in general. It can be a good slogan. But we can get specific.

In fact, “we” have. The United for Change coalition adopted this platform plank:

No Corporate Interests in Education and Healthcare: We will fight to remove private greed from our profession, our livelihood, and our schools.

• Reverse privatization of Medicare for NYC municipal retirees. No in-service healthcare givebacks. Support single payer public healthcare.
• Rescind mandatory HMO enrollment for new UFT members. Bring back choice.
• End high-stakes testing. Replace with fairer forms of student assessment.
• Fight the privatization of public education. Reverse the  spread  of charter schools in public education.

I’m going to write, just a little bit, about each of these four points. But not in order. And then I’m going to write about a fifth point that could have been included, about a major NYC organization that has contracted out work, while laying off workers.

## Charters

The number one privatization scheme in local education in NYC today are charter schools. 90% anti-union. High turnover. Sucking public money into corporate pockets. We need a leadership that opposes their proliferation – that stands up for public education – that stops the give away of public school resources – AND PUBLIC SCHOOL BUILDINGS – to private interests. And not some of the time – all of the time. Enough backroom politics around raising or maintaining the cap, tying charters to other bills or deals. It’s going to be hard to make up all the ground we lost under Unity leadership – Weingarten and Mulgrew allowed almost 300 charter schools to open and siphon almost 15% of students out of the public school system. We need new leadership to stop and reverse this destruction of public education, to get these corporations and anti-union profiteers out of NYC.

## Medicare

Hands off Medicare! I guess I’m shouting at my union leadership. Public health care for seniors – good idea, right? This year Mulgrew rolled out a privatized version – Medicare Advantage Plus. Seniors are now going to be forced to make hard decisions (and they should pick what works best for them). But the politics here are clear – move forward towards single payer, stay still, or move backwards to privatization. Mulgrew and what some are calling MulgrewCare are big steps backwards. There is a proposal for single payer in New York State, the New York Health Act. It needs work – work that the unions should be engaging in. Instead Mulgrew is bringing more private interests into our healthcare. And Mulgrew is working to kill single payer, the NYHA. New leadership is needed to fix the bill, and get corporate interests out of our health care. Who wants a clerk in Idaho deciding if your colonoscopy is covered? And has an insurance company ever delivered a baby, removed a growth, treated an infection? Let’s focus on not lining corporate pockets, but on getting our members and retirees the health care they deserve.

## Mandatory HMO Enrollment?

Bet you didn’t know, new teachers, that back in the day, like a few years ago, new teachers could choose their health plan? Seriously, we didn’t all start in HIP.

Bet you didn’t know, senior teachers (those hired before 2019) that all new teachers have to join an HMO, HIP. They don’t get a choice of what plan to start in. The next year they can switch.

Bet you didn’t know, all teachers, that Mulgrew is flirting with the idea of making it so new hires have to start in HIP HMO, and have to stay there for FIVE years. Seriously – I was on a zoom with Florida retirees, and that’s exactly what he said.

So we could ask Mulgrew to change the policy. Or we could ask the members to change the president. Which do you think would work better?

## High-Stakes Testing

I don’t want to write much about this now. There are so many problems with high stakes testing. Profits are just one small part of the problem. But they are real – the corporate profits (massive) from the tests themselves, from the test prep, from the curricular materials designed to meet the distorted curricula… Big money, that we should get out of education (not just for reason of de-privatization). Anyhow, here’s stuff I wrote about one profiteer that’s got to go.

## One more

When talking about privatizing and corporate greed we’ve looked at medicare, and charters, the College Board, and an HMO. None of those are surprises.

But it turns out that the UFT’s hated “concierge” telephone service – the thing that stops me from reaching offices in a normal way, and that leaves my members on long holds – and that makes everybody answer Big Data questions before proceeding to someone who can answer a question – that union call center is not one. It’s not a union call center.

There’s also the issue of having to call a call center. It’s like calling the cable company, but worse. Members deserve better from their union.

Norm Scott uncovered the secret. Mulgrew fired the retired UFT members who were answering the phones, and contracted the work out. Those are no longer UFTers you are talking to, wasting your time. Go read his first piece, The Face of the UFT is Salesforce, and then his follow up, Workers Sue UFT over being replaced by Salesforce. It’s a real story.

• Fight the privatization of UFT member services. Hire retired teachers.

to our platform.

Part I: Cuomo took away Spring break. Five days. Mulgrew backed him up. Then de Blasio took away the first day of Passover and Good Friday, and Mulgrew went ballistic. The DoE unilaterally gave us 4 sick days as compensation – we took the days but did not accept that they were compensation. Every Town Hall and Delegate Assembly since Mulgrew has been hounded with questions about Spring Break 2020. When arbitrations started again, the UFT leadership put this one in. And this week the ruling came…

So the ruling is here: spring-break-arbitration-decision. What did we get? What should we have got? What are the details?

The ruling introduces a new kind of day – a vacation day. A vacation day is different than a sick day because 1) it can be used without providing a reason, and 2) Vacation Days can be used at any time, with some school based approval/disapproval, and 3) left over days are paid out, at retirement, at full value (instead of 2:1 like CAR days).

Those 4 CAR days they already “gave us” will be converted to Vacation Days. And then we will get up to 3 more Vacation Days. The total each one of us will end up with will be equal to the number of days each of us worked.

People who separated from service will get a payout.

### Some Days are Worth More than Others

The arbitrator, Scheinman got it wrong. Read more…

The UFT posted a pdf that was not searchable. I converted it to a word document.

Here’s the document spring-break-arbitration-decision.

And here’s the text (with unfortunate spacing, but better than nothing):

AMERICAN ARBITRATION ASSOCIATION

X

In the Matter of the Arbitration

X

between

X                             NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION                                  X

Re:   Spring Recess

Case #A-079-C23132

“Department”       X

-and-                   X

UNITED FEDERATION OF TEACHERS    X

“Union”            X

X

APPEARANCES

For the Department

Karen Solimando, Executive Director

For the Union

David Campbell, Director

BEFORE: Martin F. Scheinman, Esq., Arbitrator

BACKGROUND

In this Union initiated (“Uin) grievance, the Union protests the Department’s refusal to compensate its represented employees for seven (7) extra days of work resulting from the cancellation of Spring Recess 2020. The Union contends the Department• s decision in April 2020 to require schools remain in session during the previously scheduled Spring Recess resulted in seven (7) uncompensated school days and the lost opportunity for staff to take planned vacation time off and is in violation of Article(s) 3, 6 and 20 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBAn) and corresponding articles of the CBAs of all other impacted titles. It asks for a determination compensating the impacted represented employees for these seven (7) days insisting the four (4) Cumulative Absence Reserve (“CARn) days provided by the Department are insufficient compensation.

The basic facts are not in dispute. New York City (“NYCn or “Cityn) is now some twenty three (23) months into the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout this period, the City and its municipal unions have worked collaboratively to provide needed services for the City’s 8.8 million residents and, as most relevant here, its more than one million public school students. While at times experiencing issues, some of which I was called upon to resolve, the Department and the Union have worked together to transition

from in-person to remote learning to hybrid learning and then back to full in-person instruction. Throughout this period, and despite great strain from the pandemic, educators and administrators at all levels strove to deliver the best experience possible under challenging circumstances.

Most relevant to this matter, prior to the pandemic, on April 29, 2019, after consultation with the Union, the Department issued its “2019-2020 School Year Calendar,” setting Spring Recess for Thursday, April 9t h     through Friday, April 17t h ,      a total of seven

(7) weekdays.   (UFT Hearing Documents, pp 18-22).   A revised

calendar was issued on September 24, 2019, containing the same

scheduled Spring Recess dates for the coming year. Documents, pp 23-27).

(UFT Hearing

The weeks leading up to Spring Recess 2020 saw the Covid-19 pandemic in its initial surge.   With cases rapidly rising, Mayor de Blasio, on March 12, 2020, issued Emergency Executive Order No. 98, declaring a state of emergency for the City. That Sunday, March 15, 2020, the Mayor and Chancellor Richard Carranza announced NYC public schools would be closed for all students from March 16- 20, 2020. During this week, all staff prepared to engage in remote

instruction/learning. March 23, 2020.

All schools commenced remote instruction

On March 27, 2020, Governor Cuomo issued Executive Order (“EO”) No. 202.11, which, inter alia, waived the one hundred eighty

(180) instructional days requirement for school districts and directed schools continue to “first use any vacation or snow days remaining.” (UFT Hearing Documents, pp 35-38).1 On March 30, 2020, the State Education Department (“SED”) issued a clarification “school districts must continue to provide remote instruction for students, meals for students, and childcare for essential workers every weekday between April 1, 2020, and April 14, 2020, even if the district is scheduled to be on spring break during that time” (UFT Hearing Documents, p 39).

On March 31, 2020, subsequent to SED’s clarification, UFT President Michael Mulgrew wrote to UFT members via email that while schools would be open remotely beginning Monday, April 13, 2020, schools would be closed on Thursday, April 9 and Friday, April 10,

1 The directive contained in Executive Order 202.4 indicated, relative to the closure of schools statewide, shall hereafter be modified to provide that all schools shall remain closed until April 15, 2020, at which time the continued closure shall be re­ evaluated. No school shall be subject to a diminution in school aid due to failure to meet the 180 day in session requirement as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, provided their closure does not extend beyond the term set forth herein. School districts must continue plans for alternative instructional options, distribution and availability of meals and child care, with an emphasis on serving children of essential workers, and continue to first use any vacation or snow days remaining.

2020, for the religious holidays, as standard in the school calendar. (UFT Hearing Documents, pp 45-47).

However, in order to be in compliance with the Executive Orders and NYSED directive and to avoid losing critical and much needed state funding, all Department staff continued to work remotely and school-based staff provided an alternative instructional program during the 2020 Spring Recess. On April 3, 2020, the Chancellor emailed all staff announcing schools would remain open remotely on April 9 and 10, 2020, in addition to Monday through Friday of the following week. This resulted in Union represented school-based employees being required to work through religious holidays in addition to the full Spring Recess. This added seven (7) days to the work year and required those who sought to observe the religious holidays to utilize existing CAR days.

On April 4, 2020, to resolve the issue of the right of employees to observe religious days without loss of earned days, the Union, along with other unions representing school-based employees, reached a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) with the Department that provided teachers and other school-based employees with four (4) additional CAR days that could be used for religious observance days or reserved to be used for sick days.2 The MOU

2 For twelve (12) months employees were to receive four (4) sick days or four (4) annually leave days, at the employee’s option.

also included provisions reserving the unions’ rights to pursue compensation for working during Spring Recess (Union Hearing Documents, pp 50-54: “Each Union expressly reserves its rights t.o seek additional compensation in order to make represented employees whole for time worked during the previously scheduled spring break”).

After discussions to resolve the matter proved unsuccessful, the UFT filed the instant grievance on July 1, 2021, seeking full compensation for all employees for work during Spring Recess, April 9-17, 2020, in violation of Articles 3, 6 and/or 20 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. A Remote Conference was held at the DOE on September 28, 2021.     By decision issued December 9, 2021, the Department denied the grievance. (UFT Hearing Documents, pp. 55-57.) The UFT promptly sought arbitration of the matter by demand dated December 14, 2021. (UFT Hearing Documents, p. 58.)

I held pre-hearing conferences on November 17, and 24, 2021, and a hearing on December 15, 2021. At those times, both parties were afforded full opportunity to introduce evidence and arguments in support of their respective positions. They did so.

During these conferences and formal hearing, I made a series of interim determinations including that some form of compensation

was due for the extra days worked. I directed the parties to consider draft language reflecting this ruling and also to provide

possible remedies. Even though I am familiar with the language of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement and related policies since I am a member of their permanent arbitration panel and have served as mediator and fact-finder during several rounds of bargaining, including most recently in connection with the implementation of a vaccine mandate, I concluded the parties are more familiar with Department policies and procedures and how leave and entitlements should be administered in tandem with prior agreements. As such, my determination reflects the parties’ proposed language in response to my rulings.

DISCUSSION AND FINDINGS

The Issues:

The basic issues to be decided are:

1. Did the Department violate the parties’ various Collective Bargaining Agreements in the way in which it treated employees represented of the Union regarding the Spring Recess in the school year 2020- 2021?

1. If so, what shall be the remedy?

Positions of the Parties

The Union asserts employees who work additional days performing their duties should receive monetary compensation for those days. While employees can, under appropriate circumstances,

be ordered to work additional days, they cannot be ordered to work those days without compensation, insists the Union. The Union cites prior Awards by Arbitrators Jay Siegel and Carol Wittenberg in support of this proposition. Nor, urges the Union, is it relevant what specific instruction occurred on those days, for student instruction and activities varies throughout the year with some days allowing for special activities and soine typical instruction. Whether directing enrichment or a math lesson, employees were required to perform their professional duties on those days and prevented from engaging in planned vacation activities, asserts the Union. Therefore, the Union insists additional compensation is appropriate.

The Union alleges a Spring Recess vacation is omnipresent on the school calendar and is incorporated into the Agreement pursuant to Article 20. Article 6 of the Agreement provides the Department set the number of school days and the dates of scheduled Vacation Days with the Union prior to the beginning of the school year. The school calendar, once finalized, establishes the workday schedule for that school year, maintains the Union. In its view, the only ability to deviate from the set calendar is in circumstances where snow days or school closure in response to other events require certain predetermined recess days (not beginning with Spring Recess) be converted to schooldays, where

there is a one (1) for one (1) exchange of a school closure day for a recess day. Additionally, Vacation Days may only be taken, in the agreed upon order of preference, to the extent needed to

“meet the statutory minimum,” Art. 6, C. minimum was suspended.

Here, the statutory

The Union further argues the cancellation of Spring Recess not only resulted in additional work without pay, it also forced some employees to use accrued days for their religious observance, for there were certain holidays which fell during the Spring Recess. It is for this reason, urges the Union, the parties in recognition of the magnitude of the disruption to employees of being required to work not just during a scheduled vacation, but also during religious holidays, entered into an MOU. That MOU addressed solely the re•ligious observance issue, granted each employee four (4) CAR days and explicitly recognized and reserved to the Union (and the other participating unions) the right to later bring claims for additional compensation such as this UI. As CAR days are limited use days, for employee illness and preapproved personal business, the Union contends CAR days do not provide equal value for the additional days worked and the loss of unencumbered paid Vacation Days. Accordingly, the Union seeks monetary compensation for the seven (7) days worked.

In the alternative, given my preliminary indication monetary compensation did not seem to be the only way to address the purported inequity suffered by the represented employees, I asked for other possible remedies to ensure employees receive equal value for the vacation time lost. In this regard, the Union believes an appropriate remedy is to provide credited paid Vacation Days to employees who worked during the Spring Recess. CAR days, as suggested during the hearings by the Department, would not provide equal value as they are limited use days that would not replace the lost unencumbered time to engage in self enriching, relaxing or family activities, insists the Union. The Union also notes CAR days would not provide equal value when paid out, should they not be utilized. Accordingly, the Union posits, a vacation pay remedy would provide for up to three (3) credited paid Vacation Days and up to four (4) CAR days converted to Vacation Days, for each day an employee worked during Spring Recess, if I declined to award the monetary remedy pressed by the Union.

While the Union understands a myriad of administrative factors go into properly staffing a school and providing instruction and services, to properly mirror the lost vacation time the scheduling of Vacation Days should be done with ample lead time for administrators, but with limited bases for denying the requested days. The Union asserts an appropriate balance can

be struck between administrative needs, fairness and transparency if employees are required to submit requests for the use of Vacation Days prior to commencement of each term and administrators were able to deny requests only if they exceeded an agreed upon cap. For example, the Union speculates if 10% of the employees in a school or program (or more than one (1) employee in a school or program with nine (9) or fewer employees) requested a Vacation Day this could be resolved by the existence of such a cap.

The Union also notes by providing a clear and streamlined process for use of the Vacation Days, employees will be encouraged to use the days, thereby reducing the cost of compensating employees for those days as the cost of substitute coverage is typically less than would be required to pay staff based upon a pro rata share of salary. Nonetheless, such Vacation Days should not expire and should be paid out on a one (1) for one (1) basis upon separation from service and to those who separated from service after Spring Recess but before determination of this grievance, urges the Union.   In its view, this will also reduce the burden on the Department by spreading out payouts over several years.

Finally, the Union urges, employees whose circumstances resulted in their having used more than the four (4) CAR days allotted in the MOU during Spring Recess should not suffer a net

loss of CAR days because of the scheduling change. Accordingly, any CAR days beyond four (4) used during Spring Recess should be refunded to employee CAR accounts, lest an unfortunate employee who was out sick all of Spring Recess receive no Vacation Days and be out an additional three (3) CAR days beyond those allotted under the MOU.

The Union proposes any disputes under the program be directed on an expedited basis to Scheinman Arbitration and Mediation Services (SAMS).

The Department (“DOE”), on the other hand, submits the grievance should be denied on several bases. As an initial matter, the Department claims there is no contractual entitlement to Spring Recess. Article 6 of the Teachers’ CBA specifically defines the work year as:

1. All teachers shall report to their schools to begin work on the Tuesday following Labor Day and will have a professional day on Brooklyn-Queens Day. The Tuesday following Labor Day may be an instructional Teachers shall be in attendance on duty thereafter on all days of the school year except for the last two weekdays of the month of June. The official school year calendar shall provide a one week February mid-winter recess which includes Washington’s Birthday, without reducing the number of instructional days for students. In no event, however, shall the number of days worked in any school year under this work calendar be fewer than the number of days teachers would have worked had they reported, as before, on the Friday after

Labor Day and worked through the last weekday in June.

1. Emergency Closings

1. The Board of Education (“DOE”) and UFT recognize that due to emergency conditions (including, but not limited to snow closings) there may be situations where the DOE may fall short of the minimum number of instructional days required annually by the Education

1. Prior to opening of each school year, the DOE and UFT agree to jointly determine those Vacation Days during designated recess periods which shall be used in the event that there is a need to make up days in order to meet the statutory minimum and the order in which such days would be

1. In no event shall the number of make-up days exceed the number needed to meet the minimum required by the Education

The Agreement specifically recognizes and guarantees a February mid-winter recess but is silent with respect to Spring Recess. Moreover, even if there is an entitlement to Spring Recess, the contract recognizes recess periods may be eliminated and used if “there is a need to make up days in order to meet the statutory minimum.” Here, based on the Executive Orders and NYSED directive, there was an “emergency” which required the Department to continue instruction during the 2020 Spring Recess to meet the statutory minimum instructional days and avoid losing state funding, insists the Department.

Second, the Department and Union entered an MOU which provided all staff who worked during 2020 Spring Recess would receive four

(4) days in their respective accrued leave banks. This additional time not required under the Agreement, maintains the Department, should satisfy any liability or obligation owed to Union members that worked during the 2020 Spring Recess.   Although all staff were required to continue working remotely during the 2020 Spring Recess, the Department notes that work was different because a menu of options was provided.

The Department further contends if, however, additional compensation is due to the Union represented workforce for the lost vacation period, the days should be deemed CAR days and paid on a 1:2 basis upon separation from employment.

Moreover, with respect to the use of the days, the Union’s remedy request staff have an “automatic right,” without any supervisory oversight, to use any “make up” days (i.e., the CAR days previously provided by the Department and if any addition days are provided in the instant matter) should be rejected based on the impact on Department operations. While the Department recognizes the commitment and critical role all staff played in maintaining an instructional program during 2020 Spring Recess, an “automatic right” to a day off (or consecutive days) without supervisory oversight would negatively impact staffing and

services to students. The Department fully expects, absent compelling circumstances, staff should be able to easily utilize the accrued time off to care for themselves, others or to recharge. However, the Department maintains school supervisors should have authority to reject an absence request to ensure appropriate staffing for students’ instructional programs and school operations.

Opinion

After having carefully considered the record evidence, and having the parties present arguments and documentary evidence, as well as responding to my inquiries, I make the rulings set forth below. While some ‘of the language has been drafted, initially, by the parties in response to my rulings, in the end the language set forth, herein, is mine alone. I hereby issue the following Award:

There is no dispute employees worked seven (7) days which had been scheduled for vacation for the 2019-2020 school year. When employees perform additional work, they are entitled to additional compensation. This principle is well established even as among these parties. For example, in UI SESIS 1, Arbitrator Siegel ruled the implementation of the special education reporting system known as SESIS required employees to work beyond their regular workday. Accordingly, he found the workday provisions of the CBA were violated when a significant portion of SESIS users worked beyond

their workday.   Siegel ordered those employees be compensated at a pro-rata rate for all time spent working on SESIS outside of their regular workday.

In UI C-175, Arbitrator Wittenberg found educators teaching classes for credit outside of the school day must be paid pro-rata rather than per session. In so holding, Wittenberg relied on Chancellor’s Regulation C-175, which describes per session work as “comprise[d of] any activity that is not part of, or an extension of, a pedagogic employee’s primary job responsibilities.” Regular classes held after school were an extension of the teacher’s primary job responsibility and compensable at a pro rata rate commensurate with their salary.

This case is analogous. Employees worked additional regular school days. They performed their typical and primary duties

during that time, albeit remotely.

This work was an extension of

their primary job responsibilities.

On a practical level, the

days were essentially paid Vacation Days during which employees were required to work. Indeed, the Agreement refers to them as “Vacation Days.” Article 6 C. The Department’s argument employees are not entitled to compensation for extra days worked because the Spring Recess was cancelled as a result of an order from the Governor (with clarification from SED) is unavailing. While employees may be ordered to work additional hours or days during

an emergency, they cannot be ordered to do so without compensation. Furthermore, the parties already indicated something additional was in order when it agreed to the MOU.

While additional CAR days might be a possible resolution of this grievance, I find them inadequate. CAR days are of a different nature than the Vacation Days that were lost. The use of CAR days is limited and does not serve the recognized need for time to disconnect, decompress and restore. Then Chancellor Carranza recognized in his original message to educators, and the Department acknowledged during the hearing, the need for the days off and the impact on educators for having lost them: “We recognize this may feel like a disappointment to many students and schools as we have all been working tirelessly in our transition to remote learning and very reasonably want a break. Many of our educators are parents themselves, and this has been an especially challenging time for them.  We hear you and recognize the need….  We thank all of our educators for the sacrifices they’re making in advancing

the health, safety and we,llbeing of our city.” Documents, p 50.)

(UFT Hearing

Thus, appropriate compensation for the additional time worked requires either cash compensation or some restoration of the lost Vacation Days.

Having found compensation is due and additional CAR days would not provide equal value, I need to determine what form the compensation should take. The Union argued in the first instance the proper means of compensation is to pay employees who worked during the Spring Recess 1/200 of their annual salary at the time of payment for each additional day worked. The Department estimates this remedy will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. While I understand the rationale for this approach in light of the ongoing pandemic, the need to continuously respond to changing circumstances and consideration of the potential cost to the Department, I find. restoration of the lost, unencumbered paid Vacation Days is the more appropriate remedy for what the employees lost, namely, rest time.

Had I ordered direct compensation to make employees whole for the lost use of the schedule Vacation Days, as the Union contended, it would require the Department to pay all eligible employees for seven (7) full school days. It would also require that those who separated from service on or after April 10, 2020, be paid the same rate. This amounts to a substantial sum and would be burdensome to the system.   Moreover, it would not equalize what the employee actually lost, namely, vacation time. At the same time, limiting the remedy to a few additional CAR days, as urged by the Department, would not provide employees with the full value

of what was lost. Arguments regarding what specific work was performed on those days miss the point; employees were required to perform the duties the Department asked of them as part of their jobs.  Accordingly, crediting employees with paid Vacation Days that can be used in the future would both limit the cost to the Department (as the cost of substitute coverage is generally lower and any payments after separation would be spread out) and more accurately reflect the loss opportunity to spend time away from work in whatever manner the employee chose when Spring Recess was cancelled.

A paid Vacation Day benefit allowing staff to take off on days school is otherwise in session does not currently exist in the Agreement. Rather, teachers have “Vacation” days during periods of school recess, i.e. Spring Recess. Accordingly, certain procedures need be adopted in order to provide credited Vacation Days in a manner which will provide equivalent value to employees at issue. Further, while these employees already received four

• CAR days pursuant to the MOU, a CAR day is different from a Vacation Day. The use of CAR days is limited to self-treated or medically certified absences (illness) or pre-approved personal business, including the care of a sick family member, that cannot be conducted outside the school day. Employees cannot use CAR days to take a trip, go to the beach, run an errand, or otherwise

spend quality time with family. Unused CAR days are also cashed out at a two (2) for one (1) basis, rather than at the full value of the day.

Accordingly, the Department is ordered to provide paid “Vacation” days for each day a qualifying employee actually worked during the 2019-2020 Spring Recess.   No employee shall receive more Vacation Days than they actually worked. For clarification purposes, the CAR days provided under the MOU shall be converted into Vacation Days together with three (3) additional Vacation Days, up to the total number of days actually worked during Spring Recess. Days already utilized as CAR days shall count against the seven (7) Vacation Days being granted.

Pursuant to the program outlined below, the credited days shall be available for use beginning February 1, 2022. Unused Vacation Days shall be paid out on a one (1) for one (1) basis as described, below. I find this program will provide employees with the full value of the lost days while balancing other issues raised by the Department regarding coverage and the ability to fully provide students the education and services they are entitled to receive.

1. Scope and Entitlement:

1. For purposes of the Vacation Day program, an eligible “Employee” shall refer to any Union represented employee who was directed to work during the previously scheduled 2020 Spring Recess and shall not include any employee who works in a title that normally works during the Spring

1. Employees who were on payroll during the period of April 9, 2020, to April 17, 2020, shall receive one (1) Vacation Day for each day they worked during that period. No employee shall receive more than seven (7) Vacation Employees shall first receive a maximum of three (3) Vacation Days credited to their Vacation Bank and then shall have up to four (4) of their CAR days converted to Vacation Days, subtracting CAR days actually used which were provided pursuant to the MOU. There shall be no minimum CAR balance to allow for the conversion. For example, if an employee worked five (5) of the seven (7) days, the employee would receive three (3) credited Vacation Days and two (2) converted CAR days that would be deducted from their CAR Bank, for a total of five
• Vacation

1. Employees shall be credited with Vacation Days effective February 1,

1. Vacation Bank:

1. The Department shall establish a Vacation Bank to which the credited Vacation Days shall be deposited. The Vacation Days/Banks shall be separate and distinct from CAR days/Banks, and Vacation Days shall not count toward maximum CAR

1. Vacation Days shall not expire. Employees who separate from employment shall be paid for any unused Vacation Days on a one (1) for one (1) basis, at the rate of 1/200 of the annual salary for each unused Vacation Day at the time of

1. There shall be no minimum service requirement for administrative employees who wish to, upon separation from the Department, receive payment for any unused Vacation

1. Employees who separated from service on or after April 10, 2020, shall be paid out for unused Vacation Time without additional

1. Vacation Days may be used as CAR days only after all CAR days have been exhausted and when the Employee explicitly requests a Vacation Day be used for this

1. Vacation Day Use:

1. Employees may take any unused Vacation Days individually, consecutively, and/or on any

1. No Employee shall be subject to discipline for the use of Vacation

1. Vacation Day Scheduling/Compelling Reason Denial: Employees shall provide notice of scheduling of Vacation Days as soon as possible but no later than ten (10) school days prior to the requested date. Vacation Day(s) requests ordinarily are to be However, if the Supervisor determines there is a compelling reason to deny the Vacation Day(s), the Supervisor shall notify the employee in writing, the Union and central Department no later than forty eight (48) hours after the employee request describing the compelling reason for the denial. Central DOE then shall consult with a Union designee within forty eight (48) hours of the compelling reason denial. If the Union does not agree a compelling reason exists, either the Vacation Day(s) shall be scheduled or the Union may submit the dispute to Scheinman

Arbitration resolution.

and   Mediation   Services   (SAMS)   for   expedited SAMS shall convene a hearing as soon as possible

(which may be virtual), but no later than three (3) days after the

submission is received. SAMS shall issue a determination of the dispute within twenty four (24) hours. The parties shall share in

the costs of these services.   Any other disputes arising under this program shall be determined by SAMS. These hearings may be virtual and the parties shall share the costs of these services.

To minimize the need for dispute resolution, I state the following:

• Should the compelling reason for not scheduling be the number of notifications that are made for a given day, a reasonable number of those employees will be scheduled, based on

• When there is a small number of employees in a given title or license, the lack of colleagues in that title or license shall not necessarily be considered a compelling reason for not scheduling. For example, if there is one (1) Physics teacher in a school, the lack of another Physics teacher in and of itself is not a compelling reason for not scheduling. However, the existence of a single teacher in that title or license may be relevant as to the timing of the Vacation Day(s) the employee seeks to

• The proximity of a Vacation Day to a holiday or recess that is already on the DOE Calendar ordinarily shall not be considered a compelling reason for

rejecting the vacation request. However, common sense dictates there cannot be an excessive number of employees seeking to extend a

January 5 , 2022.

Martin F. Scheinman, Esq. Arbitrator

STATE OF NEW YORK COUNTY OF NASSAU

ss.:

I, MARTIN F. SCHEINMAN, ESQ., do hereby affirm upon my oath as Arbitrator that I am the individual described herein and who executed this instrument, which is my Award.

January 5   , 2022.

Martin F. Scheinman, Esq. Arbitrator

DOE. UFI’. Spring R,.i::ess  UI.  awd

Cuomo and de Blasio had a feud. Mulgrew was on Cuomo’s side – for no reason that any UFT member who I talk to could understand. They kept bickering as the sleezeball’s state and the goofball’s city became ground zero for COVID worldwide.

When de Blasio issued a “shelter in place” Cuomo overrode him, and then issued his own, and called it something else. I’m not sure why we left them in charge so long, behaving like toddlers but in charge of our safety, though this January 2022 and with some luck we will have seen the last of both of them.

At the end of March teachers, students, schools, were a mess. We were just learning zoom, everything was overwhelming and exhausting, and at that moment Cuomo ordered schools to stay open through Spring Break. Here’s how Marty Scheinman tells it:

On March 27, 2020, Governor Cuomo issued Executive Order (“EO”) No. 202.11, which, inter alia, waived the one hundred eighty (180) instructional days requirement for school districts and directed schools continue to “first use any vacation or snow days remaining.” (UFT Hearing Documents, pp 35-38).1 On March 30, 2020, the State Education Department (“SED”) issued a clarification “school districts must continue to provide remote instruction for students, meals for students, and childcare for essential workers every weekday between April 1, 2020, and April 14, 2020, even if the district is scheduled to be on spring break during that time” (UFT Hearing Documents, p 39).

Martin Scheinman, Spring Break Arbitration Decision

Teachers were outraged, incredulous, furious. How did Mike Mulgrew respond? Well you can guess – The UFT was sucking up to Mulgrew, why change now?

You would think that Mulgrew represented Cuomo, not members.

Insult on top of injury, de Blasio followed up by cancelling the last two days. What does the UFT think about de Blasio? You know. Mulgrew blasted him:

Mulgrew was angry over de Blasio’s steal of 2 of our days, but supported Cuomo’s steal of 5?

They were kicking us when we were down. There is no time I can recall when a break was more needed. And yet Mulgrew was more interested in sucking up to Cuomo than in protecting members.

The DoE unilaterally gave us 4 CAR days (sick days) to make up for the theft, which we took, but did not accept as compensation. For almost two years most meetings with Mulgrew have included the question “what about our spring break pay?” And when it could, the UFT leadership filed for arbitration.

to be continued

One problem with fully planned lessons is that it narrows the opportunities for the teacher to be surprised. This is a story about a lesson that was not fully planned.

I teach in a high school full of kids who passed a hard test. Even the students who are, for us, ‘lousy at math,’ are actually at least ok, and usually pretty good at it. But I teach a class of seniors, most of whom are not taking calculus. Self-selected. One trick we use to get some motivation is NOT to teach them the things they already have been taught, but just make it harder. Instead, I teach Matrices and Vectors – material is not too hard, but it’s all brand new, so that helps with the interest level. Plus, like I wrote, in my school they are not the ‘math stars’ but they are actually as a group pretty good at it, and some individuals are quite good.

I’m transitioning from vectors in the plane to vectors in space. That’s where I was when the Wednesday/Thursday before break was disrupted. And we are about a day and a half ahead of the other section. Yesterday we reviewed coordinates in 3 space, set up coordinates in the room, discussed midpoint, developed the extension of the “distance formula” – but we also discussed why slope was tricky, and what a vector perpendicular to a plane might look like. We were previewing work that would come later, and reviewing work that came before, but with almost half the class out, that was all we did.

I came today ready to improvise – I had a few directions to move in. What made sense depended on who came. Attendance was up enough, almost, for regular class. But almost. And we were still ahead of the other section. So I would do a little new, and review a topic from October: determinants of matrices.

More specifically, determinants of 3×3 matrices, which we had played with, but the students had not passed a quiz on that topic (we use mastery quizzes). We will need this skill next week to find cross products of vectors (and do some work with planes).

I remind the kids about the notation for determinants: absolute value bars, or double bars, or “det” + parenthesis, ie |M| or ||M|| or det(M). They calculated a couple of determinants of 2×2 matrices. And then I choose for a first 3×3 example one with variables in the first row. That’s what it will look like when they calculate cross products. Plus, less arithmetic. Make the first example easy.

I wrote in a then b then c for the first row. For the second, avoiding 1s and 0s, I wrote 2 then 3. I chose 5 next to avoid creating an arithmetic progression, but instantly saw that I had numbers from the Fibonacci Sequence.

$\begin{bmatrix} a & b & c\\ 2 & 3 & 5\\ & & \end{bmatrix}$

So I continued:

$\begin{bmatrix} a & b & c\\ 2 & 3 & 5\\ 8 & 13 & 21 \end{bmatrix}$

And listened as a kid told me the determinant was -2a – 2b + 2c. Hey, that’s weird. I ran the work step by step, to keep everyone on board:

$a \times \begin{bmatrix} 3 & 5\\ 13 & 21 \end{bmatrix} + b \times \begin{bmatrix} 5 & 2\\ 21 & 8 \end{bmatrix} + c \times \begin{bmatrix} 2 & 3\\ 8 & 13 \end{bmatrix}$

And yes, for those of you jumping up and down, those are all plus signs. Not an error. I always begin the minors below and to the right of the entry I am multiplying by.

Then I tried an “easier” one:

$\begin{bmatrix} a & b & c\\ 1 & 2 & 3 \\ 5 & 8 & 13 \end{bmatrix}$

And when I heard that the determinant was 2a + 2b – 2c I was pretty sure we had stumbled onto something at least a little interesting. That’s when I was pretty much ditched the rest of the plan. I told them that that was weird, and that I had not intended it. We talked a bit about Fibonacci numbers, how to calculate them, a couple of problems that modeled them. We calculated a few. I wrote a recursive formula, wrong, without dwelling on it (too many terms before the general term). And now the room was highly engaged. We filled in some more runs of 6 Fibonacci numbers, and sure enough, the determinant when filled starting with $\emph{f}_n$ will be 2 if n is odd, -2 if n is even.

This surprised me a little, and was new to me. But it made sense that there was something going on with Fibonacci. And I told them. Maybe it was a discovery. And then I got the most interesting questions: how would I know if it had already been discovered? Where would I check? What work would I do? Who would I ask? And if it was new, what would I do? Who would I tell? And some of the questions were coming from kids who ask fewer questions. I answered them. I took pictures of the board. And I promised I would report back.

And an hour later one of the students, one with a bit less than average enthusiasm, stopped me in the hall to ask if I’d determined if the result was original.

But I have started. I went straight for Proofs that Really Count by Arthur Benjamin. And I found straight off several identities that will help. I think I can make our result fall out of them. And then I played around. And then I googled a paper on a related problem (with answers -1 and 1 instead of -2 and 2. Cool!)

I may try to write something up. I’m not sure there is enough meat here to be worth more than a note. But I will have a class full of fans egging me on.

The problems are actually

• Real world, we’ve seen before
• Real world, math
• tricky math question from a kid

The first, how do we keep ourselves safe when the people who run the schools don’t? I don’t have the answer. I dutifully checked for masks and test kits, like a good UFT chapter leader. The principal was already handing out test kits. Clarified the mask situation (each teacher gets one KN95 each week).

But that’s not enough. There are too many people in school, and too much virus hanging around. We are going to get each other sick. The Department of Education is going to get people sick. It almost certainly already has. And the associated stress!

A new problem: I have often criticized the Regents for creating problems with lousy artificial context. Easy to criticize. Have I ever created a real world problem without that issue? Today I did:

If the positivity rate is among those who get tested… and those tested are in lines to get tested… and the positivity rate in a neighborhood is 44.4% What’s the chance the person in front of you AND behind you in the PCR line will be positive?

Before you jump in to say what a great problem, but those numbers are not real world, let me point out that my testing center is at 42%, my school is at 45%, and my apartment is at 43% (adjacent zip codes) – so 44% is a fair stab at an average. On the other, I should point out that the “Math Teacher Blog O Sphere” #MTBOS already has a polite attack on the appropriateness of the question. Also, in case you didn’t notice, I used the same problem yesterday, but with lower numbers. So goes omicron.

Tricky problem. We were talking about (I was leading a discussion) of some basics in (x,y,z) coordinates. Nice ideas about adding dimensions. And then I set up a standard imaginary coordinate system in the room, with the head of the kid sitting under the projector the origin (0,0,0) and units 1 foot. We found a few points, and then I wrote y = 0 on the board, and with some prodding the students (70% of whom were in class) visualized and described the graph, with words and gestures. They got easier: z=0, z=-3, then harder, x+y=0. And we developed a 3D distance calculation. But before all that, the origin asked if a line could be perpendicular to a 3D object, and I was stumped. I don’t THINK so – but is anyone more certain?

The positivity rate in my apartment is 0. That’s pretty good. As long as I don’t go out, I can keep it there. Unfortunately, my school is open tomorrow.

I should qualify that. Not the school part, it’s true and it’s horrifying. The zero percent part. I did a rapid test on the evening of Monday December 27. It was negative. I did a PCR on Sunday December 26. It came back negative on the 27th.

In the interim I went for a hike Wednesday. With one person. Who tested negative before and after. Not during, we didn’t do that. I visited a friend Friday. For maybe 10 minutes. She was sick, thought she had Covid. But after 3 negative rapids and 2 negative PCRs she admitted that it might be a nasty cold. I brought her dark chocolate, with oat milk, vegan. She took my photo. And then there was a store clerk Saturday. I might have shopped Tuesday?

And I took my second rapid just now. The results are not in, but I saw the second line darken. In ten minutes I’ll still be negative. Apartment of jd2718? Positivity Zero.

Unfortunately, outside my apartment, the positivity rate is not zero. I know this from people on the internet. Also, from this website, by Gothamist. The positivity rate if I open my door is currently 41%. I’ve been trying not to open my door.

I was thinking of walking up to my favorite testing site, one zip code and a 17 minute walk away. They may have teacher priority. They may not. But it’s where I would go first. Except they do not have positivity zero. Nope. They have positivity 41%, too. But while mine is 41.46%, theirs is 41.08% which is a difference. But not enough.

Think of it this way. I could walk there, be safe and masked and distanced and outside the whole way, but when I get there I will be in line, and with a 41% or 41.08% positivity rate, and me probably negative, there would be a good chance of having the person in front of me and the person behind me both positive (some math person might say that’s only a 1 in 6 chance, but try explaining that to non-math people), creating a viral sandwich, which, even if the CDC renames it a viral open-faced sandwich, compares unfavorably to the zero per cent in my apartment.

So here I am sitting, negative, in my zero percent positive cocoon, and reading the craziest… They have schools open tomorrow. My school is one zip code away. Positivity 44.62%. Not only does that beat my living room, it beats the street outside my building. It’s also going to be cold tomorrow, which is another matter, but a matter all the same.

If I had symptoms, I would stay home. But I don’t. If there were some other excuse… If my union led a mass protest, a strike – I would join in. If that strike were illegal – I would still join in. If a significant number of union members across the city… alas.

I polled my members. Some had good breaks. Others, well… But none of the answers supplied me with an excuse to stay home.

So there you have it. My rapid just finished. Negative. Tomorrow around 7 in the morning I will put on a scarf, a hat, a maroon winter coat, and the warmest two masks I can find. Unless a new and exciting excuse emerges in the next 8 hours, I’ll be heading from 0 to 44.

I wish 2021 were a speck in the rearview. Soon. We hope. But not yet. Here are some wishes, some thoughts, and a few resolutions.

## COVID

There’s an immediate goal. I have not been infected. I would like to avoid infection. But omicron is making that tough. 43,000 NYC residents tested positive Thursday – that’s about one out of every 200 of us. Wednesday was 44,000. Tuesday was almost 40,000. Monday was less than 30,000. I’d like to stay relatively isolated for another few days. I’ll do my best.

And then mid-term goals – for 2022. I don’t mind keeping precautions in place, but if subsequent waves are smaller, and the proportion of serious cases falls, I would be ok with that.

## Culture

I’ve started reading (again). For years I have let the internet/screen steal my eyes, keep them out of books. I made progress this year. I know that numerical resolutions are a bad idea, but this will not be my first bad idea – start and complete at least one book each week of 2022.

I’ve systematically been listening to popular music from when I was a kid. It’s fun! I will keep doing that. My 1973 top 100 got to be a little much, but I will keep exploring. There’s a sense of nostalgia attached to some of those, but I am listening to old artists who are new to me, exploring genres, sounds, times. I will continue to explore older music (50s/60s/70s). I will look for good music that has politics attached. And (actual resolution) I will pick up a turntable so I can hear the vinyl that I have been dragging around with me for decades.

I haven’t been inside a movie theater since before the pandemic – I’m trying to remember, but probably since 2019. Instead, I’ve been bingeing Netflix, much of it not very good. I’m going to cut down on the bingeing – and I hope that COVID gets to be less of a threat, and that I get braver – I miss the big screen, and would dearly like to return at some point this year.

## Travel

I certainly want to visit friends and family – and those nearby, not a problem. But traveling further? I’d like to venture out for at least one longer car trip – that’s usually not my thing, but it feels safer. But where? I’m stuck on the Cumberland Gap. But there are other choices.

I am definitely heading north more than once. I will visit Essex County, NY. I have found some nice land, in between Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks. That’s happening.

I have tentatively planned my first big trip. Probably my first plane trip. McRib is turning 60 in July – the plan is to splurge on a northern Norway midnight sun extended drive tour, maybe with a stop over in Iceland on the way back. I wanted an Arctic cruise – but he wasn’t wild about being trapped on a boat, and, well, COVID…

And then as much more travel, train, plane, or boat, as I am able.

## Recreation

Hiking doesn’t count as travel, but it takes me away from home. And I love it. And given how little I hiked in 2021, it will be easy to hike more in 2022. I see no reason not to commit to at least two walks in the woods every month, more in warmer weather.

And I’d like to clean up my bicycle, pump up the tires, and take it out – for the first time in a long, long time. At least one bicycle ride this year (on the premise that it will lead to another).

## Work

Hey, I want to survive. But I’m interested in really enjoying teaching.

The biggest challenge will be revamping Axiomatic Arithmetic, a once a week completely voluntary elective. It’s potentially the most fun teaching possible. I’ve built up some anticipation for this – I think there is a good core who is looking forward to joining the class. So here’s what we will do: 1) Relearn arithmetic, but base 4, and using strange symbols {0,1,∆,☐} instead of the digits {0,1,2,3}. Sneak in the vocab associated with Peano’s postulates. Sounds like not much, but wait for long division… 2) Teach proof by induction. Maybe 3 sessions. Nothing too wild, just practice. Review proof by contradiction, but some of the students will have just done some indirect proof in logic – and the rest will have just done a bunch in set theory. And 3) Working from Peano’s Postulates, construct the natural numbers (with addition, commutativity, multiplication, distribution…) Proving every item that we encounter. Hey, I’m pretty excited about this. I will have to write more, full posts, once it gets going.

I also have some regular challenges – like continuing not to test students – and continuing to provide alternative feedback. I’ve also trimmed the quantity of content in my courses – and that has been good – ratchet it back a notch, and get more kids to master more of the material. I am looking to continue it.

Probably the biggest thing about work is deciding whether or not to continue. I am eligible to retire. June 30? I’ll tell you then.

## Union

There’s my UFT chapter. We’ve been very busy. I’d like to keep us focused and active. There are building issues that we have to stay on top of. We have an expanded consultative committee. I’d like a new chapter leader to come from that committee. I’m near the end of my tenure.

And there are union elections.

This pandemic has changed the landscape. Many more teachers than ever before have participated in Town Halls and Virtual Assemblies (remote option was a game changer) and a huge number were shocked about how Unity operates. The pandemic response has also angered members. The political action? They blew almost all the endorsements in the primaries, and kept sucking up to Andrew Cuomo until almost the day he resigned. And Mulgrew got caught plotting to force retirees into Medicare Advantage Plus. Some retirees will go with the privatized health care, but he gave the impression he was trying to deceive retirees, and messing around with health care, which makes this an election issue.

All of that adds up. The ground under our feet has shifted. And this will be the most competitive election ever. United for Change, a coalition, is challenging Unity. I will actively work with UfC in this election.

## Mathematics

I mentioned above getting to teach an excitingly challenging course to a handful of highly motivated students. That’s cool.

I also have a commitment, once he’s done with a paper for grad school (why???) to start reading mathematics together with my friend (see Norway, above). He’s asked to start with a basic Number Theory text. I’m cool with that. And if that goes well, what comes next?

And beyond that? I’m looking at some of the combinatorics I have worked on – lots of interesting starts, and no finishes. Maybe bring some of that work further?

And if I do retire, that opens up lots of possibilities. I loved studying during my sabbatical year, (logic, combinatorics, number theory, cryptography, algebra) and would almost certainly find a way to return to my studies. Mathematics? The history of mathematics? The history of the teaching of mathematics? Or something brand new? Probably just math. It calls to me.

tags: ,

The year began with COVID, and is ending with COVID. The pandemic dominated life the way no other event has dominated a year – certainly not for me. One off events have cast long shadows – but nothing has infiltrated every corner, every fiber as this virus from 2019.

My grandmother was one of eight children. The last sibling (great uncle or aunt) died the summer before the pandemic. But there were two spouses still living. COVID took one this past January. The funeral was live-streamed.

I was vaccinated in March. Moderna. Sore arm for the first shot. Really sore. Then real flu symptoms, 48 hours, for the second.

We ran through variants in 2021. Alpha was in the spring. Delta was later.

I was boosted in November. Sick for a day. But side effects are better than the main event. So far, no COVID for me. I will keep it that way, if I can.

But just after boosting, after it felt like things were easing up, we got hit by omicron. Lots of people got sick, and are getting sick. There is some hope that this will not cause people to get AS sick, but the jury is out.

Travel? No real trips in 2021. A couple visits to Massachusetts or Connecticut to visit family. Two rides way upstate. Celebrated my mom’s 80th in her backyard.

Hikes? I’ve been on a few. Local stuff. Harriman. Rockefeller. Pound Ridge. Van Cortland Park. But three separate foot issues limited my adventures.

Movies? I haven’t been in a theater since January 2020.

Did watch a lot of tv. Binged watched a few good shows. And quite a few others. Started reading books again. That’s good. Finishing “A Game of Birds and Wolves” just now.

And teaching.

In the spring all my teaching was online. It was exhausting and horrible. Zoom zoom zoom. I showed movie clips – I don’t do that in regular teaching. But I survived, and I tried to teach less, and some students learned a lot. And I never want to do that again.

In the summer I planned for the fall. I make the schedules, that takes a long time.

And now, in the fall and winter I am back in school. The classroom is great – best part of the day. The hallways, the crowds, the worst. Every day is stress-inducing.

A classroom bonus? I teach four once a week seminars. Logic for younger students, logic for older students, game theory, and set theory. Especially in set theory I have fun; I get to engage with kids who want math to be deeper than finding x.

I brought in a typewriter, and that was fun for some students. When I took it home (it’s mine) I purchased another one so they could keep playing. That’s a highlight.

And the union stuff.

That’s been infuriating. I never supported the caucus that runs the UFT, Unity. And in 2021 they did the normal bad stuff (lousy endorsement, not protecting teachers from abusive principals, etc)

But through this pandemic they have been worse than ever. Apparently they (or just Mulgrew? but I figure it’s a group of them) cut a deal to keep schools open, no matter what, and they spent all of 2021 (and a chunk of 2020) putting that pledge ahead of their obligation to represent the membership.

Through the first of 2021 (and all of 2020) they were embarrassing Andrew Cuomo fanboys. When he disagreed with de Blasio, they always took his side. When he made decisions that were bad for teachers, Mulgrew told us that they were good. They only stopped worshipping Randy Andy when he resigned in disgrace.

Also, they got caught working to privatize Medicare, and when caught, Mulgrew sounded to most retirees like he had just got caught.

And this year they did it all in front of an audience. With virtual DAs and Town Halls in the Spring, and with hybrid DAs now, many, many more UFTers – leaders in their schools, have seen Mulgrew’s behavior. And they have been disappointed, saddened, horrified, or some combination.

One thing I will be doing (this really belongs in tomorrow’s post) is working this coming spring with United for Change to unseat Unity.

### Low Bar

When I think about some of my favorite years: 1969, 1972, 1983, 1992, 2014, hmm, there’s more. But 2021 is not on that list. In fact, 2021 might be at the top, of that other list.

So when I begin considering 2022, tomorrow, it’s a good bet that I’ll expect improvement. And indeed, 2021 has set an extremely low bar.

Happy New Year to all of you. I’m not waiting for the ball to drop. And good night. – jd (Jonathan)

I’ll play out a few scenarios – both for the No Quarantine Policy, and also the No Mandatory Negative Before Returning to School Policy.

And by “these people” I specifically mean Bill de Blasio / Eric Adams. I’ll say “de Blasio” most of the way, but I’ll mean “de Blasio today and Adams tomorrow.”

To play along, you need to set aside what you think is best for the system, for the students, for the staff. This game guesses what de Blasio’s objectives are, and then sees if the policy would be a logical policy based on THOSE objectives. Remember, his objectives may be misguided, or worse – but we are trying to discover them.

## Scenario I

de Blasio seeks to keep the number of infections as low as possible.

This scenario immediately fails. Quarantine lets fewer people get infected than No Quarantine.

## Scenario II

de Blasio seeks to keep the schools open, and seeks to minimize infection. He uses the rapid tests to quickly identify sick students and staff.

This first part of the scenario passes. It keeps the schools open. But rapid testing on the first day will catch no infections. And rapid testing on the fifth day WILL catch infections, but after the victims had already spent time, contagious, in school.

This scenario fails.

## Scenario III

de Blasio seeks to keep the schools open, and seeks to control infection rates. The rapid tests will help control infection rates, at least a bit.

This first part of this scenario passes. It keeps the schools open. But same problem as scenario II with the second part. This scenario fails.

## Scenario IV

Maybe the rapid tests are a decoy: de Blasio seeks to keep the schools open. He is deploying the rapid tests for a reason other than controlling infection.

This first part of this scenario passes. It keeps the schools open. But it leaves two questions: why deploy the rapids? and, is he doing nothing to control infection?

## Scenario IVa

de Blasio seeks to keep the schools open. He is deploying the rapid tests for some other reason. And he is doing nothing to control infection.

This first part of this scenario passes. The second part is incomplete. Why deploy the rapids? And his people know the virus is spreading. The third part, do nothing to control infection, kind of guarantees serious outbreaks that will blow back on him. This fails.

## Scenario IVb

de Blasio seeks to keep the schools open. He is deploying the rapid tests for some other reason. And he is doing something else to control infection.

This first part of this scenario passes. The second part is incomplete. Why deploy the rapids? And his people know the virus is spreading. The third part, begs the question, what is he doing (not rapid testing) to control infection?

At this point, IVb is the best. But those questions need some sort of guesses: Why use the rapids if they are not keeping us safe? And how does he think he will keep big outbreak from happening?

Why use rapids?

• They are cheap.
• They address parent and staff demands for “testing” (but not effective testing)

## Let’s try this, Scenario IVb1

de Blasio seeks to keep the schools open. He is deploying the rapid tests because they are a cheap way to convince the public that testing is happening. And he is doing something else to control infection.

The first part of this scenario passes. The second part is intriguing. The story line is “more testing.” And aren’t rapids being funded by the state and the feds? I can’t find a source for that, but would be grateful is someone could point it out to me. It looks like they are being dumped. And a rapid on the first day is essentially a test in the trash – which makes no sense from an epidemiological point of view, but the perception that more tests are being given will be real. The second part of this scenario fits. But what about the third part?

So IVb1 is looking best. But the third part of that scenario needs filling in: How is he hoping to control infection?

• Rapid tests?
• Morning screeners?
• Count on omicron being mild?
• Count of infectiousness and symptoms arriving simultaneously.

Before looking at those possibilities, let me return to a previous assumption: I do not believe that de Blasio intends to get lots of people sick. There’s all the usual reasons – looks bad, inhumane, stain on his record – but a big outbreak would close schools, and I’ve assumed that his top priority is keeping schools open, which works with most of these scenarios.

And with that in mind, that de Blasio really doesn’t want big outbreak, which of these four possible reasons won’t work? Just the rapid tests – because they are being given too early to catch anything, and then to late to prevent spread. The morning screeners could help. Some parents will send in symptomatic kids, but some will not. Omicron does look “milder” than previous variants. Scare quotes on “milder” because it still can pack a wallop. And the “mildness” may relate to previous infection or vaccine status. And it is true, infectiousness and symptoms arrive after infection (I’m not sure how close together), which makes me believe that the first day after infection there are not likely to be symptoms, or spread.

So, let’s try this:
Scenario IVb2

de Blasio seeks to keep the schools open. He is deploying the rapid tests, not to control outbreaks, but because they are a cheap way to convince the public that testing is happening. And he thinks he will control outbreaks because 1) omicron is milder than previous strains, 2) parents will keep symptomatic kids home, or the kid will fail the screener and 3) before the symptoms arrive the kid won’t be very contagious.

The first part of this scenario is consistent with what de Blasio has said, and his actions. The second part fits what is happening, including public concerns about spread, and cost. But what about the third part? Will mild omicron, parents keeping kids home, and a window before a kid is infectious hold down infections?

Maybe. But these are people’s lives. Those are awfully high stakes for “maybe.” A bean-counter, a bureaucrat, might be okay with that sort of gamble, but not you or me. But who do you think worked on de Blasio’s plan?

One last detail gnaws at me. What about the first serious illness? Or death? That, on reflection, is not a big problem. Just claim that the kid got infected at home. There is a lot of omicron in circulation, after all.

## A different problem

Second problem, quicker solution. Why is de Blasio opposed to mandatory testing before January 3? Or delaying opening a few days to allow time for mandatory testing?

Look at the answer to the previous problem. de Blasio is opposed to closing schools. So a delayed opening violates that objective. And mandatory testing will show many many infected children. Enough that it might lead to closing schools or classrooms. And de Blasio is opposed to closing schools.

But won’t that allow lots of sick people into schools to spread omicron? Look at the answer above. Omicron is milder, parents will keep symptomatic kids home, and asymptomatic kids are less likely to spread it.

## Part I – Cruelty

Tuesday Bill de Blasio announced that quarantines in New York City schools were mostly a thing of the past. He said a bunch of other stuff – he was talking about COVID and safety. But his big new flash – no more school closings.

Up to now, when someone was positive for COVID, their “close contacts” needed to stay home, until we knew that they were not sick. It’s the approach we generally use for maintaining public health. Under the new plan, all contacts are assumed to NOT have COVID and stay in school, at least until a remote test 5 days after the fact catches them. That’s not the way we generally approach public health, but there is a lot of frustration with this pandemic.

How do I know that ending quarantines, ending classroom closures, and not sending kids home was the centerpiece of his press conference? After all, he spoke for two hours. I know it, and you can know it, because he said so.

Is this cruel? A rapid test on the day of exposure will come back negative. A kid who picks up the virus that day will get a negative rapid, and come to school. For five more days, before the next rapid.

Has the mayor’s staff run estimates of how many people will get sick that way? (probably, “many”) of how many cases will be worse than “mild” (they are hoping for “few”) and how many children and adults will die (they probably calculated “0 to very few” but they’ve probably also gamed out how easy it will be to claim they picked it up outside of school).

The mayor and his staff are gambling with our health, and the health of children. They are taking bets that they hope will work out, but it’s called gambling for a reason…

## Part II – Deceit

Michael Mulgrew followed the press conference by issuing a press release. Three hours later he wrote to UFT members. That order reflects who he thinks is more important, but that’s another discussion.

How does he discuss the quarantine change?

Read that paragraph as many times as you like (it’s from the letter to members). He doesn’t discuss the quarantine change.

Perhaps I cut out the relevant part. Look at his list of changes:

That’s also from his email to members. And nope, nothing there about the change in quarantine.

Here’s the whole email:

Not a word about quarantine. de Blasio (and Adams) are practically eliminating quarantining, and Mulgrew doesn’t mention it. But he does support “the changes” – he just fails to mention that eliminating quarantining is one of those changes.

Maybe the press release was clearer?

Nope. Not a word about the biggest change, quarantining.

Although, there he goes again with the “we got this” messaging that just pisses all of us off.

By leaving out any mention of a change in quarantine policy, Mulgrew is trying to deceive teachers. But we are smarter than that. Which you’d think a good union president might know.

Yesterday de Blasio and Adams announced an end to quarantining, and Mulgrew’s email to members omits any mention of quarantining.

See what you think:

“We’ve got this” “we will figure out/ we figured out remote” “we will lead the way back to in person” “schools/teachers/NYC/NY State will lead the way” “We are reopening NYC” The “we”? New York City public school teachers. Me. Probably you. Other public school workers. The authors? The United Federation of Teachers “communication shop.” Reporters. Media people. And they have done an excellent job staying on message. Versions of the message came out even as schools were closing March 2020. They kept running through the spring and summer, and into last school year.
“We got this” “We are reopening NYC” represents a UFT officer’s marketing campaign that does not speak to teachers, and is frankly, alienating.
Here’s the thing. Some teachers don’t love this message. It wasn’t, I don’t think, designed for us. It is a media play, a press strategy, a public relations campaign. Since Wednesday I have opened almost every conversation with a teacher the same way. “I love being in the classroom. Zoom? Never. I won’t go back. But being in school, in the hallway, around so many people, with so many safety questions – I am stressed and exhausted like never before” And the responses – teachers are relieved that I get it, that I am articulating it, that someone understands what they are experiencing. They open up. They appreciate the empathy. Which is what is missing from the UFT statements.

## Today’s e-mail

Today de Blasio increased testing from 10%, only of unvaxxed, and only if they agree, from once every other week, to once a week. A little better. But still inadequate. There needs to be a lot more, and more frequent. de Blasio also dropped quarantining requirements further. Most students who may have been exposed to COVID in school will remain in school. A small win and a big loss. What did teachers talk about? The loss of quarantining. What did UFT Communications do? They put out an email “Mayor agrees to weekly COVID testing in schools” They stayed on message. They are talking to the public (or whoever they think the public is). They are not addressing teachers.

## The New York Teacher

In the latest “The New York Teacher” there is an article entitled “Bridging the post-pandemic learning gap“. It is not clear to me where the problems with this article originate. It is a Teacher Center piece, and Teacher Center values often align more closely with DoE values than teacher values. Or was this Mulgrew’s media folks? In either case “learning loss” is fictional stick that anti-public (school reform) advocates use to push their agenda and club teachers over the head with. And “Post-pandemic?” Is that where my union thinks we are? With masking and testing and quarantining. Well, maybe quarantining. Can you imagine your reaction if someone walked up to you tomorrow and asked how you liked teaching post-pandemic? Thanks to James Eterno for finding and publicizing that one.

## Balloons and Confetti and Smiles

I just got another email today, that was addressed to me, but not really addressed to me. It was from Meisha Ross Porter. She was celebrating “Homecoming” and even mentioned a pom pom rally. These things happened and are happening – that is true. But a little flash doesn’t cover up the anxiety and stress we are feeling; the nervousness about safety, concerns about teaching through a mask; general angst about this very iffy year. Arthur calls this “toxic positivity” as he points his finger at the DoE’s deaf ear. But read his blog a few days earlier, and what do you read? UFT Exec Board, and UFT Officers expressing a similar positivity. Keep to the message? Or speak directly to teacher needs, hopes, fears? Which was it? They kept to the message.

## On Message, Not Talking to Us, a Year and a Half

After 18 months of this, people are getting used to it. And it really is 18 months. Here’s the first piece I wrote about an insulting Mulgrew email. Check the date – April 1, 2020. Schools had been out for less than three weeks. And they continued, and continued. DoE, de Blasio, Cuomo directives were all shared with the members, mostly with fanfare, over Mulgrew’s signature. Many were followed by clarifying emails that walked back the tone, if not the content. There’s a price to all this – maybe not a price to Mulgrew – but a price to you and me. The level of cynicism about the union (and most members see the leadership as the union. That’s not right, we, in the schools, are the union, or at least we should be. But that’s often the perception) – the level of cynicism about the union has never been this high. I hear distrust coming from people who’d never paid attention in the past. When something goes wrong, a significant number of our members now blame the UFT as their first assumption. I am very worried about the damage that’s being done.

## Questions

Each one of these deserves in depth examination. How did we end up with the “We got this.” “We are leading the way to reopen as quickly as possible” message? It was never put up for a vote, in any body AFAIK. How much is the failure to empathize with teachers a problem of Unity Caucus? And how much does it belong to this current Communications Team, and their boss? And how is this team different from previous teams? To change the message entirely, or to drop it, that would probably require a change in leadership – and even if you think that the leadership should be changed – you probably know that that cannot happen until the end of the year, and that is unlikely to happen even then. But what about modifying the message? Can the leadership elevate the concerns of members over the media/marketing messaging? Today’s email – how hard would have been to give it an appropriate title, and to put the issue that MEMBERS are worried about before the issue that the OFFICERS have focused on? Am I wrong about this? Was there another time when the UFT’s President (and they were all Unity Caucus) failed to connect with members to this extent?

## The End – For Now

So that’s it. This last bit is for people who won’t read this, but I need to say it anyhow. Tone down, or eliminate the marketing strategy. It is alienating members. Write the emails TO members, not for public consumption. Your primary audience should be US, teachers and other school workers. Teachers are nervous and even scared. We never were trained for remote work, and survived a year with very little support, and we know it – and now we may have to do remote again. We are worried about safety. We are worried about lack of quarantines. We know that social distancing is not at the 3-foot level, and that worries us. Crowded hallways stress us. We do not trust the DoE to tell us when we are at risk. Learn this for yourselves, if you don’t know it, and begin each conversation by acknowledging it. Show us some empathy.

There was plenty of outrage today, over de Blasio barely pretending to keep us safe. What did he say? Here’s some highlights:

• de Blasio is encouraging families to test
• de Blasio is encouraging families to give consent to be tested
• If a kid is positive, those exposed take a rapid home test that day. If it is negative, they stay in school (no quarantine). They test again five days later.
• They are doubling staffing at the situation room
• They are doubling the number of in-school PCR tests they are giving (for students and staff) – and allowing staff to use as many tests as are left over after the students are tested
• They are going to include vaccinated and unvaccinated in in-school testing

I’m going to look at this, point by point.

de Blasio is encouraging families to test: In Boston they are testing everyone before they return to school. de Blasio claimed this is not feasible in NYC. I guess, why not? OK, here’s a guess. The City’s testing network is a patchwork mess. It is easy to proclaim “tests are available” – de Blasio has done it several times – when it was at least partially untrue. it would be quite another level of challenge to process and collate a million test results. Maybe de Blasio was almost telling the truth. Maybe testing all of our students and staff before January 3 is not feasible in NYC, because it requires planning and competence that exceed what is available in de Blasio’s administration.

de Blasio is encouraging families to give consent to be tested: NYC is an outlier – requiring families to opt in for testing. Most places assume everyone can be tested, but allow families to opt out. This bizarro pattern may sound a little familiar. Remember in 2020-2021 when we couldn’t get a handle on how many families wanted to be remote? How it came as a result of de Blasio engineering an opt-out of hybrid learning, when an opt-in would have made sense? We know what happened then. de Blasio and some of his numbers people tried to rig the system to get more kids to attend in person. It didn’t work. But the abuse of opt-in vs opt-out is now signature de Blasio. It’s a ham-fisted attempt to alter the narrative, and now it’s not only lousy propaganda, it’s an impediment to safety.

If a kid is positive, those exposed take a rapid home test that day. If it is negative, they stay in school (no quarantine). They test again five days later: This is the one that has teachers screaming. It is essentially an end to preventative quarantines. Only sick, symptomatic, positive children will stay home.

Watch this: Johnny comes to school Monday, 3rd grade, was exposed the previous week, shows symptoms Monday, goes home, tests, positive, stays home. Now the kids who were with Johnny in class on Monday, they take a rapid test Monday night. Of course, after a few hours exposure, they all test negative. But in fact, two of them picked up omicron from Johnny on Monday. They all keep coming to class, and over the weekend they take their second rapid tests, and look, after a week of exposure…

But try again: Isabella comes to high school Monday, was exposed the previous week. Feels off, but isn’t sure that these are symptoms until the end of the day. While Johnny was with one class, and his classmates stayed together all week, Isabella has been in 7 classrooms with 7 groups of kids. Plus lunch. That’s, idk, 100, 200 rapid tests that night. None of the tests pick up anything. Too soon. But even if a few kids caught omicron from Isabella, by the end of the week large numbers of students and faculty will be potentially exposed.

This “no quarantine policy” is not good health policy. The first rapid test is too early, and is a waste of resources (especially in NYC, where we have had trouble getting tests for people who need them). Coming to school for a week immediately after exposure is risky for everyone else.

A secondary issue is about the reliability of at-home tests – not because of the tests are lousy – I think they are good – but because we know there are parents who send sick children to school. Especially with de Blasio and Adams and Hochul downplaying the risk to children, accepting home results looks like a practice that is designed to fail, at least at some schools, for some age kids.

And, minor side-note, the use of rapid tests leaves a question mark for teachers. How do we avoid getting docked pay if we do not have a PCR (with documentation)?

But this “no quarantine” policy will just about completely halt classroom closures, as it was certainly designed to do.

They are doubling staffing at the situation room: OK, that can’t hurt. But will it help? For the last two weeks the Situation Room broke down. Principals left messages – could not speak to a live person. Test and Trace seemed to have disappeared. Schools, with no specialized training, were attempting to make decisions about how to categorize illness, whom to contact, etc. Will increased staffing at the Situation Room fix this and prevent it from happening again? To answer that, we would have had to know what went wrong. And we can guess in a general way (not enough people, o-verwhelmed by o-micron, organizational problems), but we cannot get more specific. Worse, de Blasio denies that anything went wrong. How do we know he is addressing the problem, if he claims there was no problem? That is worrying. It’s also insulting to our intelligence.

They are doubling the number of in-school PCR tests they are giving (for students and staff): Again, sounds better. But if the baseline was low enough, doubling it will still leave us with a low number. And the previous number, 10%, was way too low. And by making it 10% of unvaccinated students who had given consent, the actual numbers tested were often tiny. One parent reported that 0 kids were tested in her daughter’s school last Monday. I think there were just two in my school (plus four adults) the same day. This policy was designed to keep the numbers tested low, so that the reports about COVID in schools would say that the number was small. Minimize testing, minimize the number. So today when asked, de Blasio claimed “We’ve never had a problem getting the number of kids and adults tested that we’ve needed to” (from Jen Jennings twitter feed. She listened to the entire event). The number he is talking about is a compliance number. He fulfilled an agreement, like a contract. He is not describing testing large numbers of kids – an outcome the agreement was designed to prevent.

They are going to include vaccinated and unvaccinated in in-school testing: Good change. It was needed as soon as breakthrough cases began. Which would have been September. Excluding fully (and partially) vaccinated students was just a way to “juke the numbers” as my friend Arthur says. Even when de Blasio is moving from doing the Wrong Thing to doing the Right Thing, he does it in a way that reminds us how astonishingly untrustworthy he really is.

#### – – — — —– ——– ————- ——————— ————- ——– —– — — – –

If de Blasio brought his brightest education people, health people and numbers crunchers into a room, and he asked them: “Come up with a system that will keep teachers and students safe, and will not unnecessarily send kids home, close classrooms, or close schools” and they came up with this system, he would need to fire all of them.

• At home testing has an element of unreliability because some families will want their children in school, sick or not.
• Sending exposed children back into the classroom for five days will lead to avoidable cases.
• Adding staff to the Situation Room without assessing what went wrong is, well, dumb.
• Not restarting January with a baseline negative from everyone seems like a strangely lost opportunity.
• Keeping consent as an “opt-in” rather than an “opt-out” is another lost opportunity.

No, if a room of smart people missed this, then they are not so smart, and should not be drawing a check from the City.

But that is unlikely what happened.

“Come up with a system that will completely stop closing schools and classrooms, and that will minimize time that students are kept out of school, that will reduce staff complaints, and, if possible, avoid major outbreaks”

If de Blasio brought his brightest education people, health people and numbers crunchers into a room, and he asked them: “Come up with a system that will completely stop closing schools and classrooms, and that will minimize time that students are kept out of school, that will reduce staff complaints, and, if possible, avoid major outbreaks” then they might have thought like this:

• Avoid testing large numbers, but do not make it so obvious. Double the previous numbers, that’s still low. Keep the “opt-in” in place, it holds numbers down. Allow faculty to take tests in school – they test themselves out of school anyway, and watching testers leave, with tests, but without testing faculty just pisses teachers off needlessly
• Under no circumstances demand PCRs before January 3, since we know that 10-20% will test positive and some schools will not be able to open.
• End quarantines for close contacts. This ends classroom closures and school closures, and keeps the minimum number of kids out of school.
• Count on parents to hold their kids out of school if symptoms are bad. (the DoE has already gotten away with the self-reported health screening – which is kind of a scam).
• Use at-home rapid tests to move accountability away from the DoE. Make a show of giving lots of at-home tests.
• Ask for the at-home tests to be administered too early to detect infection.

This is what de Blasio got. And that gives us a pretty good idea of what he asked for.

New technology is cool for kids. Even when it’s not new.

Just before the pandemic I found myself reading about old machines: typewriters.

I used them when I was a kid. Mostly electric, occasionally a manual. I took a typing class in 9th grade.

Over the last few years, on my travels, I noticed that many historical or technical museums in other countries included them in exhibits – either as examples of technology (saw one like that in Quito) or as the possession of a famous man (saw one like that in Beograd).

Before that I admired how Ed Darrell included typewriters of historical figures and authors in his blog, Timpanogos (aka Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub).

Not that many years ago a huge hit film had a typewriter as a major plot element. In fact, several typewriters show up in Das Leben der Anderen (Other People’s Lives), but it is a very slim Groma Kolibri (hummingbird) that is carefully stored under loose floorboards. By the way, the closing line of the closing scene is tremendous. Wiesler opens the book on display, and sees it is dedicated to him (or rather, his code name, which is no longer secret), and takes it to the clerk. “Shall I gift wrap it?” “Nein, das ist für mich” provides a layer of truth for the clerk (Wiesler is going to keep the copy) and a much deeper layer for Wiesler himself (this work of art is for him). Perfectly underplayed, over a score that adds, never detracts, from the film. Fifteen years later, and it holds up beautifully.

Back to typewriters. I dug a little. There were a handful of US manufacturers who dominated the market. Smith Corona. Royal. Underwood. Remington. A coworker’s wife collects Royals (originally from Brooklyn). These are easy to find. But I dug further. There are some great European typewriter manufacturers. Hermes – Swiss, finely machined. Olympia – German, solid. Olivetti – Italian, beautifully balanced and light. And some of the best engineering went into the portables.

And I thought of Das Leben der Anderen and read about the Groma. Turns out, the quality of this East German machine was quite high. Digging deeper, Olympia wasn’t really Olympia – it was a new West German company that took over the name. The original, rebranded Optima, continued to be produced in the DDR. And then I happened on it – Erika. A typewriter called Erika. The company has a name, Seidel & Naumann but they left it unobtrusive. Erika was the name of the typewriter. After the war the name of the company was eventually changed, more than once, but the typewriter remained Erika. Precision. Quality. Beauty. And I bought one. From 1958. Here:

The package arrived when I was out, and the postman left it at the post office instead of my apartment, which is how I ended up with it in my car, and brought it into work. Also, the case needs a new handle, so I was going to bring it with me to someone I would visit in a few days who might be able to make the handle. So I brought it into work, planning to leave it there a few days.

I showed colleagues, showing it off (it’s tempting to say “her” since the name is feminine, but it is, after all, a machine). Some kids saw, and were curious. I encouraged them to try it. It was so funny! They were hesitant. They didn’t know how to load paper, or advance a line, or bring the carriage to the start of a line. Typing was slow. For a few days a trickle of kids touched their first typewriter keys. A junior came to me, announcing it did not work. It turns out there is a difference between pressing a key and striking a key, which is not intuitive, but is easy to explain.

I put up a sign, announcing that there would be no charge if a student created a haiku or other verse. Of course there would be no charge in any case, but the sign had an instant effect, and I began to find haikus on pages left on the roller. Different kids were typing on the same sheet. The traffic got, not heavy, but consistent. I started posting some of their work on the office door.

And then the day arrived when I was taking the typewriter away, and I felt a little bad.

So here’s what I did. I went to a facebook typewriter collector’s and sellers group, told them my story, said no way was I leaving my gorgeous Erika in school, but did anyone have a more downmarket American typewriter. And I got a few responses, one was just across the GW, and I picked up a Smith Corona Sterling. The Sterling is simple, not elegant. But for the kids it is magical new percussive technology. I put up new rules:

Every day I find things that students type. I often enter the office to a clickety-clack, and smile. Most students work alone. Often I find them with a partner. Some like a fuller audience. It’s mostly seniors – they know me. But one lunch I was at my desk and heard a rustle, and I saw the tip of a head disappearing behind the door-frame. It was a freshmen, who wanted to know if she could try it. I don’t think she did.

Over time the rhythms seem to be getting steadier. One senior has written letters to friends and family. Each letter, I have noticed, eats up exactly one page. One day I found a few paragraphs, explaining why the author’s choice of best quote in Lear was better than the teacher’s choice. Sometimes there are brief philosophical tracts – navel-gazing with short attention spans. But mostly, there are haikus.

I have also recovered three sketches of students typing. I think I’ll keep the Smith Corona in the office for a while.

I made it through last week. I thought.

Friday morning, trying to start to breathe, I opened an email from a colleague…”I am so so sorry…” They had tested positive on a rapid Friday morning.

My school was pretty good this fall – few cases – at least as far as I knew. We were careful, most of the kids, almost all of the adults. The teacher who sent the email had been especially cautious. And I was up there. But with omicron the usual precautions may not have been enough. If a kid was a little sloppy, if a few kids were, this omicron might have started moving from kid to kid, kid to teacher.

So when I got the email I wasn’t so worried about having caught omicron from the teacher – we had been in the teacher’s room together, but not so close. I was concerned that omicron had been circulating in the school, and that I could have picked it up from anyone – student or teacher – I encountered.

I had a negative PCR on Monday (I was one of the lucky staff members, the 10%), and I did not socialize last week. So I put my risky days between Monday and Thursday. Instead of waiting 4 days, like with all the other COVIDs, omicron is detectable a bit more quickly. Which made Sunday, today, the perfect day for a PCR. Somewhere between 3 and 6 days from possible exposure.

After I got the email I went online, and found that the closest public hospital, North Central Bronx, had plenty of appointments on Sunday. I picked 9AM.

And then I waited. Stayed home Friday. Missed a gathering Saturday – but I was not the only no-show – it’s omicron time, and we all understand.

Sunday, today, came. North Central is a walk from my house. I cut it a bit close. I was a block from home when I realized I had put on my mask, but forgotten my glasses. Oh well. At 20/25 I can survive, though I wouldn’t want to teach that way. I walked the best route, cutting through two chunks of park, zigging through the warren of little streets.

As I came up Kossuth I saw the line of test-takers stretched to the corner (which had been bad news last Friday). But when I got to 210, I saw the line turned the corner and went 50 feet up the block and slightly uphill. Now, I had an appointment, but I knew better. I just jumped on the end of the line. I looked at my phone. 9:00, to the minute.

We slowly shuffled forward, and a few came on line behind me. I counted sidewalk blocks – 13 in front of me, 2 behind. I slid forward, and caught a warm sunbeam. It felt good. Progress was slow. 20 minutes passed, and we had hardly moved.

Then all of a sudden the line broke and moved and reformed all the way at the corner. Staff were offering free rapid take-home tests to anyone who would leave and go home. Progress! But the corner had no sunbeams. And a wind picked up, and gusted. It was cold. Really cold. 20 people or so to the front steps. We moved about halfway. Still the cold, and no sun.

We moved again. Officers were counting 10 people inside. My group would be next. A family – or two friends with their kids – in any case a group of 5 – were in front of me. Then me. Two guys who seem to have met in line. A woman in an 1199 knit cap. And an older couple. It was 10:10. I’d been 70 minutes in line.

Based on the previous motion I estimated 10 – 20 minutes to get inside. It was still cold, but the porch we were on had partial walls, so there was some protection from the wind. I did some toe raises. One of the women in front of me was in a little dance. It felt necessary to try to keep warm. Time passed. It was more than 20 minutes. Every once in a while they brought out rapid tests and sent more people home.

We peeked in the glass doors. Those inside were in line – and had not moved forward. It was more than a half hour. We started chatting, frustrated. People showed up with appointments – they got sent to the back of the line. Appointments were not being honored. A staffer came out to move some people out of the vestibule. I asked if something was wrong. As she answered, we got motioned inside. It was 11:30. I had been waiting outside for two and a half hours.

We stood in the inside line, going nowhere. It was a bit surreal. At least it was warm. They asked us to take out IDs, and then didn’t ask for them. They asked who had been to this hospital before. Half of our hands went up. And nothing. A woman argued about needing a test because her previous test was mislabeled.

Finally, after about 20 minutes, they took IDs. I took a seat, and took out my phone to read email, play with twitter, play mindless games. Stuff my fingers would not let me do when we were out in the cold. I heard them announce they were cutting off the line. Wow. The site was scheduled to stay open until 2PM. But it was just after noon. The woman with the mislabeled test from last week resumed her argument.

At 12:15 my name was called. I was directed to a line in the middle of the room that went nowhere. But it felt like my status had risen. The guy called after me, one of the two men from outside, his name was Jonathan, too. We chatted.

I could see both sitting areas now, and the front desk, and the door. Where they had been tough about controlling entry, now there were people pushing through the vestibule into the lobby. It’s hard to keep people in the cold that long. When we’d entered the lobby it was pretty quiet. But now there were babies screaming. Someone was playing some inspirational music – just briefly – but quite annoying. I heard discussions about flights. Apparently, if you could prove you were flying in the next __ hours (did they say 36? 24? I wasn’t fully listening) you could get some sort of priority status or priority test. Words between the two staff members and the people who wanted to get tested seemed to be getting a bit tense. An explosion would not have been completely unexpected.

The pieces were in place. I am surprised there was not a blow up when they cut off the line. But while I was standing with Jonathan they announced to people who could not get a PCR – but who could take home a rapid test – that the rapid tests had run out. That did it. A woman would not accept this, and demanded the name of the staffer, and asked for a supervisor. No supervisor came. The woman refused to leave without the name. People took out cells and started filming. No one in the conversation had the ability or the interest to deescalate. Officers arrived (hospital, not precinct). I’m not sure how, but this defused.

The staffers, and officer, and someone else in hospital uniform discussed clearing the lobby. And then two men came in. They made the same appointment as me – but for 1PM. The hospital was not going to honor their appointment. They were loud, and fairly angry. Again this could have been the spark, but was not. And then a woman walked in with a 1PM. That did not look as confrontational. My name was called.

I went to the hallway past registration, and before the testing area. Each time a person went for testing, the rest of us moved down one chair. Jonathan was right after me. He had been hanging out with some friends, who then tested positive, and he wasn’t feeling so great. It was 1:15.

Fifteen more minutes, and then I got called into the testing room. A nurse took my information. She was distracted and slow. She took my info once before, in September – but how many tens of thousands of tests ago was that? She walked away, with me sitting there. Then I heard “Sir, sir” and she was calling me. She sent me to another curtain where a nurse swabbed me and sent me on my way. I got to the lobby, but the door was blocked with sawhorses. They sent me out through the ER. I got to the ER, and asked the officer where the exit was. Right in front of me. I was disoriented. But I pushed the door open, walked through the automatic door into the garage, and stepped towards the sunlight. I reached the sidewalk. It was 1:45.

That was wrong. Very wrong.

For one, I should not have spent four hours and forty-five minutes getting a PCR.

I had a 9AM appointment. Why was Health and Hospitals making appointments, but not keeping them? I think that goes to allowing de Blasio to say to the public and the press “appointments are available.” He should get credit for the act, if it happens, not the words, which are empty, or worse, lies.

I know staff is short, but they clearly needed more.

And I know that staff is short, but uniformed hospital employees are important. At least one of the staffers was working under a contract – does not inspire confidence.

No one knew what traffic flow was supposed to look like in the lobby. They made it up, I think, as they went along. Which gave the impression, at times, that nothing was happening.

This was a Sunday, and a bad shift (super busy day after Christmas). But that demands a strong on-site supervisor. It took a few minutes for me to find two bottle-necks – registration of new patients needed an extra person – and the nurse doing intake (right before the test) needed to be freed of other tasks. The nurses doing the tests seemed to have significant down-time.

But even if the site could have been more efficient, there were too many people seeking tests.

Health and Hospitals knew the staffing levels. The people at the top. de Blasio’s people. They knew how many appointments had been made. They had numbers from the previous days. They knew they were going to have more people seeking tests at Bronx North Central than the site would be able to accommodate. And they did nothing. On Christmas Day Bill de Blasio knew there would be a problem today, and he did nothing.

This is malignant indifference on the part of Bill de Blasio.

There should have been more staff. But if there was not more staff, there should have been a plan.

Find a way to accommodate people with appointments – or alert them in advance.

Let people know when they got in line that capacity had been reached. That’s horrible, right? But it was far worse what happened – turning away people who had been waiting in line in the cold.

Have enough rapid tests on hand. Replenish them when they run low. Look, running out of tests a week ago, when omicron was first hitting New York City hard, understandable. But when you know what the demand will be?

Finally, I heard that a public hospital in Queens was fine today. Thank you, Mayor de Blasio, for reminding us that you think the Bronx is special.

Omicron is a new variant of COVID-19.

Omicron was first identified in Botswana and South Africa. It may have originated elsewhere.

Omicron is more different from previous variants than other previous variants had been.

When Omicron was first sequenced, it was already more different than previous variants, which may indicate that it was developing for a while, which may make its ultimate origin not Botswana or South Africa.

There are several competing theories about how this could have happened:

• It could have developed and mutated as a long-term infection in an immuno-suppressed person – that would have given it time to become very different, while not being detected.
• It could have passed from person to animal, and back to person.
• It could have happened when a person was infected with two variants, and those variants recombined, swapping parts, creating a brand new variant.
• It could have been around for a long time, and we were just not looking for it.

I think the top of the list is more likely than the bottom.

Omicron is definitely more transmissible, by a lot, than other variants of COVID-19.

Omicron can infect vaccinated and even boosted people.

Is Omicron less severe than other variants? That’s an important question. And the answer? Maybe. We are seeing infections that are in general less severe – but is that intrinsically omicron, or is that because so many omicron cases are reinfections, cases in people who already have partial immunity? In South Africa omicron found a population where vaccination rates are only 25%, but where many people had already been infected – so it is not clear if the cases were less severe because that’s how omicron is, or if the already-infected and the vaccinated just have milder cases. I’m hoping omicron is just less severe, but we should be watching closely.

How fast does Omicron spread? It was fast in South Africa. In Britain it started out doubling every 2½ days or so, but sped up. I’ll show you the numbers from New York City – it’s hard to figure out while we are looking at super-steep increases with daily variation, but every three days seems about right.

Notice the pretty clear change in shape right around December 13 – 14. Four weeks later (potential start of the end of the surge) would be January 10. Two weeks later (potential end of surge) would be January 24.

The second graph is cases per 10,000 population – so new case rates instead of raw numbers. Notice how Staten Island is double the other boroughs while Delta was dominant. (Trumpies not vaccinating). But also notice how, when omicron arrives, Manhattan takes off. Why? Are more people there sick? How does that happen? Or are more people there being tested? How does THAT happen?

### So what could happen?

Biggish (few hundred thousand cases) surge.
Huge (over a million cases) surge.

Some people are out sick or quarantining (non-health care) but with no real impact.
Enough people are out sick or quarantining (non-health care) that services are impacted – fire, sanitation slow downs, longer lines at supermarkets, schools combine classes due to teacher absence.
So many people are out sick or quarantining (non-health care) that there are some stores, supermarkets, schools, etc that are unable to operate.

Some people are out sick or quarantining (health care) but with no real impact.
Enough people are out sick or quarantining (health care) that services are impacted – some elective procedure are delayed. Lines get longer in doctors’ offices and hospitals.
So many people are out sick or quarantining (health care) that there are breakdowns in service.

A proportion of those sick require hospitalization, but the rate is so low that even with the biggish or huge surge, there is no problem with hospital beds.
A proportion of those sick require hospitalization, and beds start getting tight.
A proportion of those sick require hospitalization, and the rate is low, but the biggish or huge surge is so large that hospitals begin to get overwhelmed. Elective stuff is canceled. Staffing issues cause cancelation of things that should not be canceled.

Omicron is as mild as de Blasio hopes it is.
Omicron turns out to be not quite as mild as we hoped. Go back and recalculate the answers to all the previous questions.

The surge will last 4 weeks. (omicron reached New York City around December 7)
The surge will last 6 weeks.
The surge will last 8 weeks.

### Options?

Hope that the less serious complications hit us. Brace for them. But let life continue as it has been going. Reduce quarantining requirements, so as to not let omicron disrupt us. This is the de Blasio plan.

Limited measures. Step up pressure on masks. Temporarily limit gatherings. Close schools where there is spread. Add vaccine mandates, and enforce the ones we have. Encourage vaccination of the unvaccinated, including children.

Aggressive mask, vaccine, distancing requirements. School closures while the wave passes over us.

### And?

And we will see. I think the wave will be huge, not just big. I think that some services will be partially overwhelmed, and that only limited disruptions to health care will occur. I’d like a better handle on how bad the infections are before making more policy – but vaccine mandates for students, yes. And closing schools for a short while really would depend on the shape of the curve – it could be the right move – but I think we are short information just yet. If extending closure through January 10 would appreciably limit the spread, then I think we would want to go for it.

The shock is wearing off. Over twenty-four hours after school ended.

Yesterday had an ominous feel. We were teaching in a crisis. My school has high attendance, but yesterday many classes had too few students to accomplish anything. Our hallways were eerily uncramped. Students removed Christmas decorations – something about streamers not staying up – but it felt like undecorating. Rumors floated about a possible shutdown, but consensus was that de Blasio and Adams would be committed to keeping schools open, no matter what. Still, there was more conversation about COVID than about holiday plans. I finished the day by taking a goodbye selfie – December 23, 2021, just like March 13, 2021.

Back then was a Friday. This was a Thursday. But the differences run much deeper.

First, a couple more words about yesterday. I taught students new games. I put “find all rectangles whose area = perimeter (disregarding units)” on the board in someone else’s “class” – and a few students tried it. I told another class my version of how omicron got its name. And the best answer I could muster to “will we shut down” went something like this: “the politicians are committed, for reasons that have nothing to do with safety, to keeping our schools open. I heard de Blasio on the radio urging caution and caution and more caution, except in City office buildings and in NYC schools. But it is possible that things go way beyond what the politicians want to happen, and they may end up closing schools – but that will mean the situation has become horrible – something nobody wants.”

## March 13, 2020 vs December 23, 2021

Yes, that was Friday. This was Thursday.

Back then we did not know much about COVID. There was a mix of terror and disbelief – and an amazing amount of naïvety. Masks. Door handles. Today we know a lot about COVID. We don’t know how this will end, but we understand a bunch more about transmission.

On March 13, 2020, there had been no publicly confirmed deaths from COVID in all of New York State. There were about 2000 confirmed cases across the entire United States. On December 23, 2021 we found ourselves on the leading edge of a fourth wave, with roughly 53 million cases over the last 21 months in the US. We have lost almost 60 thousand New Yorkers to the disease, a quarter of whom were victims of Andrew Cuomo’s lethal nursing home policies.

### What kind of shutdown?

In March 2020 we were fighting with de Blasio and Cuomo and to some extent with Mulgrew – we were demanding that schools be closed. Two week shutdown. Three week shutdown. We were going to extinguish this thing. The goal was to stop COVID in its tracks.

Today the discussion is different.

There are families who desperately want a remote option, independent of the omicron wave. They should have it (run centrally – not by each school)

But there are concerns about omicron spreading in schools – as it is clearly doing. There is some push for closures in the face of clear in-school transmission. And there are huge question marks about how slow de Blasio has been to allow the evidence of in school transmission to be collected and evaluated. He has undertested. He has understaffed the situation room. He has undermined test and trace. It is hard to believe that this is not intentional.

There have been some pretty strong statements, including this press release from United for Change / UFT, and Friday’s MORE statement. And they are not outliers. Most teachers think the DoE and de Blasio were trying NOT to find cases, and trying not to close schools. And most teachers think that when COVID is spreading in individual classrooms or whole schools, that those sites should be closed. That sentiment is broad enough that Mulgrew was forced to put out a statement: “Our school buildings should not open in January if we don’t have a plan in place to keep each school community safe.” It’s non-specific, as you could have guessed in advance, because he does not really mean it, but that’s the effect of pressure from the membership, that he even put something out. (I’ll write more about the recent UFT reaction to omicron in the next few days).

So there are some calls for schools to stay closed until some specific condition is met (I have heard negative PCR test for everyone – adults and children. I have also heard about an ask for a change in policy, to mandate vaccines for eligible children). The assumption here is that schools might need a couple of extra days in January, a week at most, to meet the first of these conditions.

There’s a more nuanced position – that closings should be aggressive for the duration of the omicron wave (this position usually comes with the assumption that the wave will be huge, but of brief duration) to avoid overloading hospitals – but also any other institution that will not function properly without adequate staffing.

One position I do not hear today is that of March 2020 – no one I know of has promoted the idea that schools should be closed until COVID goes away. That’s not happening.

### Political Obstacles

March 13, 2020 Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio were bickering over, well, everything. de Blasio called for a shelter in place. Cuomo said no. Then Cuomo called for a shelter in place, but called it something else. On the schools they fought and fought and fought – while the actual problem – this brand new virus was arriving – and we had no idea what was going to happen – and we had no immunity – while the actual problem was going unaddressed. At the same time we had an idiot in the White House who not only was doing nothing worthwhile, but was actually using the impending catastrophe to whip up racism.

And instead of yelling at Cuomo and de Blasio for bickering, our union’s leadership watched. (Over the next months the union’s Unity leadership consistently sided with Cuomo over de Blasio, time and time again – but that should be the subject of another post). And instead of condemning Trump’s buffonery in the face of a pandemic, the union’s Unity leadership continued its cowardly policy of avoiding using Trump’s name.

But on school closures de Blasio, Mulgrew, and Cuomo got there – just a little later than they should have – and with major pressure from teachers and parents – and with some real fear of the unknown pandemic we were facing.

Today the politics are different. de Blasio has a few days left. Cuomo left four months ago, in disgrace. Mulgrew seems to have promised the politicians that he would keep schools open, and is trying to find a way to calm member anger without breaking his closed-door promise.

### Masks and Ventilation and Vaccines

There were no vaccines in March 2020. There was contradictory information on masks. Today masks are understood to be useful at controlling the spread, despite a substantial (political) anti-mask movement. We have much better understanding of how ventilation can provide a degree of protection, even though many classrooms are not properly ventilated, and even though de Blasio and Karin Goldmark bought substandard air purifiers for every school in NYC. But the biggest difference is vaccination. At this point every adult working in NYC schools is required to be vaccinated – and a good chunk, maybe a very good chunk, have been boosted.

### Infection and Mortality

That leads to one of the biggest differences. On March 13 2020, none of us had died, but, sadly, quite a few were about to. Compared to the time after, very few had become infected.

Today, with our knowledge of masking, of how transmission occurs, and with some ideas about ventilation, but with the virus all over the place, and with “breakthrough” infections, people, even careful people, are getting sick. I’ve been careful, but I may have been exposed Thursday, and will be testing in a day. For the moment, the vaccines and boosters are carrying the day, and mortality is far lower than in March/April 2020. But COVID is not just a cold. Long COVID remains an issue. And the disease is still new enough that we probably do not yet have a full sense of what the long-term problems will be.

## Anything Else?

We are tired of this. We are tired of the pandemic. We are tired of COVID. We are tired of masks. We were way tired of Zoom teaching, and we are tired of teaching with COVID restrictions (even if some of them, such as air purifiers, ventilation in some schools, and social distancing are more or less fiction.) We want to get back to how things were.

Cases now are not so serious – most of them – as they were 20 months ago. Vaccines work. Boosters work. Breakthrough cases are mostly on the mild side. Omicron cases may be on the mild side as well (not clear if this is a feature of omicron, or if this is because omicron is infecting people who already have some immunity).

At the same time we are scared. COVID killed tens of thousands in NYC. Most of us lost someone we knew, maybe someone close. A positive test brings uncertainty – it might be mild – but we won’t know. Each new variant does something different – remember when it seemed that kids would never get this? Or do we worry that the next variant may evade the vaccines? We are already facing hyper-transmissible omicron.

There are fatalists, and impatient people. With the vaccine they are pretty sure COVID won’t kill them, and they want to discard the masks and the mandates and the precautions yesterday. COVID, they rationalize, is like a cold; everyone will get it sooner or later. I understand where they are coming from. But they are wrong.

The trick is to find the safeguards that are adequate for the moment, and to exceed them, even if only slightly. But that is very hard with politicians in charge. Will Hochul, Adams and Mulgrew handle things better than Cuomo, de Blasio, and Mulgrew?

All good questions. None of which we could have asked on March 13, 2020.

I wanted to write two things about yesterday’s cancellation of the January 2022 Regents. If you didn’t see it, Betty Rosa wrote that due to hardship around the pandemic the exams were being cancelled. Kids who were passing the class, and needed the exam, would get waivers. You can click the link above to get more details.

So there were two responses I had.

The first Arthur already wrote about. It is hard, sitting in a New York City school, to imagine that cancelling Regents increases safety. Many of our schools have for months essentially had no precautions, except masking. Social distancing? Three-foot social distancing is meaningless, and the DoE was fine with violating even that where not possible. Contact tracing? In high schools the city was ruling that almost no one counted as a contact. Testing? Tiny numbers, and huge exclusions. It was designed to be able to say “we are testing” – not to keep us safe. So how will cancelling exams keep us safe, when basic measures are not in place?

The second is important. The Regents exams have become lousy exams. Maybe they always were, but now they definitely are.

Regents exams measure the knowledge learned in a course. Or they measure readiness to graduate from high school. Or both. Or neither. I don’t know. No one does. We give them because we always gave them, and we don’t worry about why.

Regents exams guarantee that teachers do a good job preparing students. Well, no. Regents Exams squeeze the curriculum in many places. Teachers are pressured to teach to the test. And avoid teaching interesting things that the State will not test. Much of the best stuff I teach I can only teach by avoiding Regents material (a luxury many teachers do not have), or by teaching non-Regents classes.

Even if Regents force teachers to teach to the test, at least they force them to teach to a good test. Well, no. Regents exams are lousy. Not uniformly. Math exams I have written extensively about = they started a rapidly downward spiral two decades ago, and have not improved. ELA, History, Science exams – all are bad in their own way. But I remember teachers when I started in 1997 talking about NY State Regents exams as some sort of national gold standard. They were exaggerating, at best. But no one would make that claim today, not without being met by snickers.

These are pointless exams, with content that doesn’t make sense to be tested, with bad questions, with weird scoring. They are important to rating teachers (in a clearly wrong way) and to stressing kids. Most colleges don’t care. And teachers, given the choice, would be better able to assess their students by themselves.

Losing another Regents administration is good (we lost June 2020, August 2020, January 2021, June 2021 – did we lost August 2021? – and now January 2022. Our current high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors have been spared them so far. Why would anyone want them back? OK, there are a few possible answers. But what good reason does anyone have for bringing them back? They have long outlived any value they may have once had.

I am glad January Regents are cancelled. We should be advocating permanently eliminating New York State Regents Exams.

Not “why are we faced with such a contagious variant?” – though that is an excellent question. Rather, why is this variant named “omicron”?

The easy answer is that omicron was the next letter in the Greek alphabet. That’s not correct, although there is a good idea there.

The variants are being labeled with Greek letter names, alphabetically. Alpha, beta, gamma, delta – ouch delta! Epsilon, zeta, eta, theta – (“yay!” say all the math teachers – “theta!” We name angles “theta” all the time. θ.) Iota, kappa, lambda, mu – remember how scary was mu was going to be?

And then we skipped two letters.

Nu. It was going to sound like “new” and confuse people. If we are talking about the “new variant” it is whatever is new at the time, but the “nu variant” would only be new for a short while. No to nu.

Xi. Hard to pronounce? Not a problem for the World Health Organization. Same spelling as the Chinese president’s name? Might be an issue. Probably the big issue. But the WHO just said that Xi was a common surname. Good enough. There was reason to skip Xi. And Nu.

Which brings us to omicron, which is the next letter in the Greek alphabet. End of story.

End of story? Not quite.

Omicron. That’s a mouthful. Three syllables. Why is the name so long and awkward? What sound does the letter make?

Think about it. The only letter in English with a multi-syllable name is W, which is, in all honesty, a pretty weird name. Most letters sound like their sound. Why not call W “wee” or “woo”? Or if we are going to go after the shape, whey not “double V”? That shape is definitely not two Us. But I’ll take W as a clear indication that a letter with a long name probably has a story attached.

That’s Omicron.

Omicron is really two words put together. O. Like a good name for a letter. And micron. Greek for small. Like microscope. Here it is in Greek: Όμικρον. Little O. So cute. And cuddly. And transmissible.

But if there is a little O, what is that in contrast to? Well, Greek also has a big O. Omega. O – mega. Like mega-mart. Here it is in Greek: Ωμέγα. But since omega is at the end of the Greek alphabet, we use it to denote the very last. Alpha is first, omega is last. The alpha and the omega. The beginning and the end. But that ignores the Little O / Big O thing. We don’t talk about that so much in English. But with omicron making headlines…

Little O. Big O. Question answered, right? Right. But that raises another question. Why? Why two different Os? They make, as far as I know, roughly the same sound. So this will take some digging.

Sounds change over time. When Shakespeare wrote he rhymed “move” and “love.” They no longer rhyme. When Puritans landed in Boston and New Haven, the Boston Puritans did not say “pahk” while the New Haven Puritans said “park” – there weren’t even cars. The sounds shifted. When the Beatles sang “Komm gib mir deine Hand” they were singing in German, of course. Different language, different words. But four of those five words are identifiable to an English speaker – but with the sounds shifted “Come give me your hand.” (not sure how we got “your” and they got “deine”) Sounds change in language. Sounds change as dialects develop. Sounds change between languages.

So what happens when different sounds become the same?

In the Latin spoken in most places there were distinct B and V sounds. But, people who learned Latin in parts the Iberian Peninsula merged the bilabial voiced stop and the bilabial voiced fricative (what we think of as B and V) into a single sound, giving rise to the letters B and V being pronounced the same in Spanish – even today. Now, the spelling never got reformed. So some knowledge of etymology might help speakers of the language spell, but memorization plays a huge role. And how, when a Spanish speakers mentions B and V, are they distinguished, if they sound like B and B?  The speaker might say b grande y b chiquita, big B and little B (meaning B and V, respectively).

In Russian something a bit similar happened. They lost the letter yat: ѣ. Yat originally was a vowel a bit different sounding than a short E, but over time in most accents and dialects the sounds converged. There were exceptions. In Moscow differences were reported, and even today there are places that linguists say preserve distinctions between words that used to be spelled with ѣ from words that used to be spelled with e. But by 1800, in most regions, without a sound difference, spelling became frightfully difficult. The provisional government abolished the letter in 1917 – and old habits die hard – the Bolsheviks had to ban it again. Today it only appears in monarchist or intentionally olde fashioned documents. But the loss of spelling distinction means loss of some connections to the past – as this student, for example, found etymologies vexing without the support of the original spellings. Roots are obscured. Knowledge has been lost.

In English. Ooph. When English spelling became standardized everyone was spelling sort of alike, but not, with lots of regional accents supplying spellings to different words. Sounds have separated and merged, separately in different places. I guess I have heard about how useless the C is, because it makes either the same sound as a K or an S. But think about accent, chimera, matriarch… I think C is tied in with both pronunciations and history in a way that makes it hard to extricate. Plus, if we moved English to spellings that match how WE say things WE would have to decide which WE meant – as English words are pronounced in different ways in different places.

So back to Greek. The Greek situation is more akin to that in modern Spanish. Greek has two modern letters that make an o sound, omicron and omega, little O and big O, Ό and Ω. Small letters o and ω. But once upon a time, the omicron made more of an “oh” sound and the omega made more of an “aw” sound. It was only later, when the sounds merged, that the “little O” and “big O” names became necessary.

And that is why we have the letter omicron.

December 19, 2021

This is a crisis week in the COVID pandemic. NYC is exploding with cases. This week alone cases have tripled in our city. Theater, sports, music venues, and colleges are shutting down, or taking a pause, just as they did in March 2020. And just as the city and mayor lagged behind in 2020, the DOE and UFT leadership is lagging behind in its response now while putting students, teachers and whole communities at significant risk.

Listen to what the data is telling us! Expert epidemiologist, Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research at the University of Minnesota, in reference to our city’s data stated, “I think we’re really just about to experience a viral blizzard.”  The CDC is expecting critical spikes in hospitalizations and projects that over 15,000 Amercians will lose their lives to COVID in the week of January 8, 2022. Here in New York, over 21k cases were reported on Friday alone – a record number of cases during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the DOE situation room is falling apart. Testing and tracing at schools is overwhelmed and dysfunctional. Data reporting is inadequate, opaque, and skewed. Now is the time for the UFT to step up to the plate to protect its members and school communities with strong demands for action during this chaotic mayoral transition. It’s not enough to make tepid and vague suggestions for the incoming administration in January. We are in a crisis now and we need action now. Mulgrew’s email of December 17th offers nothing but the same acquiescence to mayoral/DOE policy that exposed so many of us last time. If the DOE is incapable of keeping schools safe we, as educators, must act on behalf of our school communities.

### Actions by Teachers and School Communities For This Week and Beyond

We can act now by utilizing the resources, rights and opportunities we already have available to us:

• Follow existing guidance on getting tested when sick or exposed immediately. See the DOE personnel memo here
• Stay home if you’re sick: Be honest on the health screening. If you have COVID symptoms, or symptoms of any illness this week, stay home. Did you know that the CDC includes other symptoms such as a headache or runny nose as COVID symptoms?
• You shouldn’t have to use any CAR days if you correctly follow the guidelines and procedures. Remember you are allotted 3 CAR-free days from onset of symptoms to seek a COVID test. The same goes if you actually test positive for COVID (even without symptoms).
• Testing: Rapid tests are great, but rely on a lab-confirmed PCR test also; stay home until you get both results (submit the PCR to your principal as proof of testing).
• Insist on being tested at your school after students are tested. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer from testing and administrators.  Testing is our way to maintain safe school communities.
• Reach out to families to let them know the severity of the crisis and what they may want to do to keep their children safe.
• Consider making arrangements with families who feel unsafe this week to post assignments for those keeping their students home. If possible, coordinate posting work with the existing quarantines at the school.
• Be mindful of the social emotional needs of our students and keep their workloads reasonable and manageable. Keep your per session opportunities in mind while posting work for classroom quarantines.
• Consider organizing informational picketing before and after school to highlight our safety needs during this crisis, along with families and allies.

## Demands for Safety from DOE

Safety must be the overriding concern during this pandemic. City teachers unions like United Teachers Los Angeles have successfully demanded much more in terms of safeguards than the Unity-led UFT. United for Change demands the following from the DOE:

### Classroom/School/City Closures

• There is no current threshold for classroom, school or city closures. We need more definitive thresholds for closures based on the science and specific criteria.
• Since breakthrough cases are now the norm, we should quarantine vaccinated students, teachers, and staff who are exposed – not just unvaccinated students.
• Provide KN95 or fitted N95 masks to all students/staff. Demand that principals actually enforce that they are worn in school settings.
• Strengthen classroom and school closure protocols at least to their maximum 2020-2021 levels. The current standards appear linked more to the question of ‘are there enough teachers or subs to keep the building open’ than what is healthy/safe for our staff, students, and families.
• Fully staff the situation room and ensure notifications and decisions are made in a timely manner.  We propose a watchdog group of UFT & parents as oversight in the Situation Room.

### Testing

• All students and employees must be given baseline testing.  We call for students and teachers to return on January 3rd (through the 5th, if need be) with a negative PCR test.
• Increased access to weekly testing–regardless of vaccination status. Provide all in our school community with free at-home tests, regularly.  Robust testing for all staff and students from grades 3K, Pre-K and beyond must be available in our city schools without impediments.
• Return testing at least to maximum 2020-2021 levels, and do so for both vaccinated and unvaccinated persons. Provide those students who don’t consent with a remote learning option.
• Ensure randomized testing so that the same students and staff are not tested over & again.

### Ventilation

• With temperatures now too low to keep windows open in many schools that rely on them almost entirely for ventilation, we must improve indoor ventilation, heating, or relocate overcrowded classrooms to safer environments.
• Add real HEPA filters to classrooms.
• We need access to all CO2 readings in classrooms and common spaces. Readings should be happening regularly in all buildings and all classrooms.

### Other

• Expand UFT-staffed remote options for students with personal or family health issues.
• Given the health risks teachers face and the realities of long COVID, we must increase access   to out-of-network healthcare options for first year teachers. And no more healthcare givebacks affecting in-service members and retirees in our upcoming contract.
• End teacher observations for this year, as Los Angeles has done for most teachers. There are reports of teachers being pressured to seat students at an unsafe distance to facilitate pre-pandemic ‘collaborative learning strategies’ in schools with high community spread. Teachers shouldn’t have to choose between their students’ and families’ health and their own professional livelihood.
• Expand CAR-free sick days for teachers who have COVID symptoms or have children of their own who are exhibiting COVID symptoms.

## A Better Union, A Responsive Plan

The pandemic is here for the foreseeable future, but our current disconnected UFT leadership doesn’t have to be. United For Change candidates running in the spring 2022 UFT elections offer a better alternative and real, responsive solutions. Here is what they say about the current crisis:

Camille Eterno (ICE), our candidate for UFT President, running against Michael Mulgrew, says, “The current UFT President cannot wait for the new mayor to take office to act. The time to demand a safe teaching and learning environment and inform members of their rights is NOW! Mulgrew is fiddling, just like he did in March of 2020, while COVID is again spreading like wildfire in NYC. We must do better.”

Annie Tan (MORE), for UFT Secretary, states, “Lack of leadership, from Mayor de Blasio and our own union, has led to thousands of cases among students and staff that never needed to happen. Our schools are left with major staff shortages and COVID spread at school, preventable with baseline COVID testing, universal weekly testing and other common-sense safety measures. Educators, students and families deserve leadership that acts decisively on what is happening at schools, including remote learning options; ‘normal’ was never good enough.”

Luli Rodriguez (ICE/Solidarity), candidate for UFT Treasurer: “At The Heritage High School, there are only 11 classrooms for 350 students. Certain classrooms are over-capacity. Current UFT leadership dropped the ball by not successfully pressuring the mayor to lower class sizes. We cannot wait any longer for real enforceable safety measures to be implemented.”

Lydia Howrilka (Solidarity), a candidate for UFT Executive Board, representing high school teachers, adds: “I urge caution and a return to remote instruction for the week of December 19 and 1 week after the New Year. We can’t control what people do. But we can take preventative measures.”

Alex Jallot (MORE), a candidate for UFT Executive Board, representing high school teachers: “We are once again finding ourselves in a position where our students, colleagues, and families are at high risk. Cases have been increasing rapidly over the past week and the data suggests those numbers will only go up. We demand that schools be able to go remote for this upcoming week to keep everyone safe. Furthermore, we demand that everyone produce a negative test upon our return after the holiday break. We were told to prepare our classrooms for a remote possibility, and now is the time to utilize that. It is imperative that we act immediately in order to save lives.”

Edward Calamia (New Action) a candidate for UFT Executive Board, representing high school teachers: “The policies coming from Washington, Albany, and DOE Central must be judged based on the experience of the workers and students who enter school buildings every day. We who are on the front lines need something better, we who are on the front lines have accepted the challenge to create something better.”

Nick Bacon (New Action), a candidate for UFT Executive Board, representing high school teachers:We know all too well the consequences of our union leadership’s failure to act in March 2020. Michael Mulgrew’s current pandemic strategy isn’t working. Enough with the empty gestures. The time is now to proactively ensure the safety of teachers, students, and families.”

Daniel Alicea (EONYC), a candidate for UFT Executive Board, representing middle school teachers: “As a dad and educator, we must do right by our families and our kids – keep them safe.  Our students from ages 5-11 are not fully vaxxed.  Neither are children in 3K and pre-K.  We aren’t testing kids in 3K or pre-K and that’s unacceptable.  We may need a pause for in-person instruction to avert a catastrophic outbreak.  A pause will provide relief to our healthcare workers who are overwhelmed, our school staff shortages and it may, ultimately, save lives.”

I got shut out of two free testing sites yesterday. I may not have been alone.

I arrived at the end of the line at North Central Bronx Hospital at 3:45. I’ve walked over there a bunch of times. This was the longest I’d seen the line – out the door and all the way to the corner. But it was 3:45, and they close at 4:30. So I was safe. Not. A woman came out to say that the line was closed, that the guy in front of me was last. “Just one more?” “No.” Another guy walked up, same story. I thought maybe numbers would help “just the two of us, can you ask?” “No.” and the other guy walked away, wasn’t going to join me – and I was wrong – I didn’t like being shut out, but it was not the woman’s call.

We are in a health emergency, and tests should be widely available. Running out of capacity at one site and supplies at another represent small breakdowns – but repeated breakdowns make a pattern – a scary one.

We know from the schools that the City has been limiting testing as much as possible. Breakthroughs happen among the vaccinated, but testing does not. Adults have extra hoops to get through before they can get a test – and even then very few adults are tested in school. Most students get skipped.

The City, de Blasio, doesn’t like testing because it hurts the stats on sick people. But testing is needed to limit (not stop, unfortunately) the spread. Lots of testing is needed.

The City needs to make widely available testing a priority. And it has clearly not done so so far.

The highest decision making body of the United Federation of Teachers is the Delegate Assembly. But what happens when it makes no decisions?

Wednesday the Delegate Assembly met. Mulgrew gave an extended report. A Welfare Fund representative gave a fairly substantial report in favor of Medicare Advantage Plus. There was a question period with five questions and a point of personal privilege. I believe that two of the questions and the procedural point were arranged by the leadership in advance. And then two points were added to the agenda. And then Mulgrew adjourned, before the business part of the Delegate Assembly began.

This stands in sharp contrast to November, when a motion to add an agenda item Mulgrew opposed (about the Medicare Advantage Plus program – asking for some member say in the negotiations) almost got on the agenda (49% in favor), and during new business Mulgrew lost two votes (I think Mulgrew and Weingarten combined had lost a total of one vote in the previous 20 years – two in a night was startling).

The Delegate Assembly routinely does not have enough time to conduct its business. It used to start at 4PM, with an automatic adjournment at 6PM. Some years ago (anyone remember exactly when?) it moved to a 4:15 start. The president’s report is not time-limited, but the question period (15 minutes) and the period for motions directed to the agenda (10 minutes) both are. And new business runs up against the 6PM automatic adjournment.

What ends up happening? The president’s report is usually long, and time is pressed for the rest. There are delegates who want to ask questions who never get called on. Lots of them. And there are delegates who want to add something to the agenda who never get called on. And then the new business usually goes uncompleted, unless Mulgrew really wants to get to something, and then he gets the meeting extended past 6.

## Question Period

Delegates have questions. Pre-pandemic I tried to extend the question period quite a few times. It’s not a factional move – it’s just that delegates really want to know stuff. Sometimes they ask questions that have already been answered in an email, or at a previous DA, or even that day. Still, they are delegates with questions, and should get answers. During the fully remote DAs they extended the question period – it usually was interesting. Because there were also questions that no one had asked yet – and that likely other delegates had the same questions.

The period is partially undermined by the leadership planting questions – those questions eat up valuable time – and if the leadership wanted that information to get out, it could have asked Mulgrew to include it in the report. It was not just the December DA where that happened – it is every month. In past years (and maybe it still happens) there was an invitation-only club run by an officer, a member of Unity Caucus, that would create and assign these planted questions.

If the time were longer, or better, not limited, then those planted questions would not be a problem. And the question period really needs to be longer. It’s a Delegate Assembly after all. Certainly 15 minutes is not enough time.

## New Motion Period

This is where items are added to the agenda by delegates. An item is proposed, then voted on. (It takes 50% + 1 to get it on next month’s agenda. It takes 2/3rds to get it on the current agenda).

The Executive Board sends items to the Delegate Assembly, and they are placed on the agenda. Since one caucus, Mulgrew’s Unity Caucus, controls all but three Exec Board seats, this means that the only way for someone who thinks differently to add an item to the DA agenda is through the new motion period. Thus there are delegates highly motivated to be recognized during the New Motion Period.

At just 10 minutes, and with each item taking a few minutes and needing a vote, it is usual for only 2 or 3 items to come up – even when we are aware that there are 4 or 6 or even 10 delegates who wish to introduce something.

Worse, when the leadership does not like what may be coming up, they ask their loyal delegates to introduce items through the new motion period, even though those items could have easily been introduced through the Executive Board. This takes time from the New Motion period away from those without access to the Executive Board (opposition). On Wednesday, the leadership did just that, introducing two agenda items that everyone would agree to, that could have come from the Executive Board, but that fully ate up the New Motion period.

Even worse, when that is not enough, Mulgrew can drag out an item to prevent the next motion from coming up. He did that to me last November, dragging a nothing motion out for 7 minutes, and then filibustering for 3 more minutes, just to prevent me from raising questions about the hybrid learning that Mulgrew and Unity Caucus supported. Here, read about that.

## President’s Report

The president’s report ran long on Wednesday. It is always long. Yesterday’s was padded with a substantial Mulgrew-Care infomercial (less polemically, a presentation by Joe Usatch, Deputy Director (?) of the UFT Welfare Fund, on the Medicare Advantage Plus plan that the Municipal Labor Coalition negotiated with “The Alliance”(?). I think the pitch was substantially similar to the one that our retirees have been getting since late last spring).

In any case the president’s report ran longer than usual, but usual is already long. Instead of squishing the rest of our time, yesterday’s report left no time for new business. Given how poorly Mulgrew did last month, that must seem like victory. He can’t lose any votes if none come up. But that means that the Delegate Assembly was completely prevented from performing its nominal mandate – running the union.

But the president’s reports are always long.

Is he intentionally eating up time to frustrate delegates? Perhaps. He’s definitely done that sometimes. He should stop. Or there could be a time limit, like for every other agenda item, and like they do at the Professional Staff Congress for president’s reports – but I don’t really think that’s a great idea. Just take the time you need, and don’t filibuster to prevent questions and motions from coming up.

Does he just have a lot to say? OK, then the Delegate Assembly needs to be longer. No one wants long meetings. But a 6:15 adjournment would make up for the time we lost years ago, bring the DA back to a full two hours. That, as a minimum, would be the right thing to do. And a 6:30 adjournment might meet the needs of delegates who have something to ask, or something to add to the agenda.

This is a Delegate Assembly, after all. Delegate questions and issues should take priority.

I teach an elective, counting things, Combinatorics, really some nice enumeration, with a lot of problem solving approach.

I used to give tests, but they got in the way of learning, and wasted class time, and caused needless stress. So I have small homework assignments, and I have bigger assignments. The bigger assignments I call “write-ups” – they are sort of mathematical lab reports, documenting something that was learned in the course of a full period or so, by way of collaborating in a group…

I also give final projects. Big poster, like from a science fair. And a presentation – something between three and five minutes. No matter how complicated or simple the project, the goal for the presentation is that it can be digested by the student’s classmates. Over the years I have done better at assigning the final project, and the quality of the projects has gone up. Some have been quite good.

In the fall of 2018 a then junior, Z, chose a slightly simpler topic – the sum of the squares – and did an absolutely superior job explaining and extending the problem. She knew it. We all did. Everyone understood what they were watching/hearing as the presentation unfolded.

A year and change later, during the pandemic (and without my knowledge – there was no reason for me to know – just mentioning that I wasn’t part of it) she repackaged the project as a video, attempting to channel Vi Hart, and submitted the product to the Museum of Mathematics and won a communication first prize.

I am proud of her. Also a little intimidated – this is the first student who is so quickly advancing to mathematical knowledge beyond mine – she is currently a college sophomore, math major, doing tough work. And also a little personally proud to have given her a push in this direction. Plus, I can see a bit of my style how she clears the fractions in fractions.

So this here is me, sharing Z’s video. It’s just 2 ½ minutes. Please watch it and say nice things

This week the testers came to my school. I saw them, and I could use a test. I asked for one. Nope – I had not given consent. Well look, when I say “please test me” that is consent. When I say “I consent to be tested” that is consent.

But that’s not what the Department of Education means. For them, there are two objectives – limiting the number of positive tests, and limiting the number of tests, period. They completely canceled testing of staff, then relented. But when they relented, they required “C*NS3NT” – some bastardized from of “consent.” Department of Education C*NS3NT is not designed to see whether or not staff give consent – it is designed to be a bureaucratic obstacle. It is designed to stop staff who want to be tested from being tested.

In their drive to keep schools open (which is not yet seriously threatened, and may not be seriously threatened, let’s see how o-micron hits) the Department of Education treats testing as a problem. Canceling tests for teachers was too much? So they allow testing, but put teachers through hoops.

This began long ago. Testing for COVID in our schools was political from day 1. Testing was expensive and organizing it was tricky way back in August 2020. So testing proponents (Mulgrew) asked experts to come up with a number that workable. The DoE immediately pushed back – not 20%, but 10%.

If someone didn’t want to be tested, they didn’t have to be. No random sampling. They intentionally sampled a population that believed it was not sick, and got predictably low numbers. And they compared those low numbers to samples of people out of schools who got tested because they thought they WERE sick. The results – more people who thought they were sick really turned out to be sick than students who thought they were not sick – were predictable.

Then vaccines came, and the DoE said, we do not test vaccinated students. Then breakthrough infections happened, and the DoE did not test, by policy, those susceptible to breakthroughs. This fall the DoE stopped testing students with one dose – incompletely vaccinated.

Testing in schools has been used for a year and a half to push a political agenda. Keep schools open, test healthy students to keep positivity rates low, not test those susceptible to breakthroughs. And now, to make it difficult for people who just want to be tested to actually get a test.