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I’m Not UFT President but this is what I would have said:

June 14, 2020 am30 2:01 am

I did not send out a letter to the membership. I’m not the president. But it would have been far better than the letter that did get sent (copied at the bottom of this post. It is an embarrassment.)  Excuse my mediocre writing. But I think the ideas are solid:

Dear UFT members,

With this school year drawing to a close, we remain focused on finishing things out. We have two more weeks of classes, grading, and reports. I believe you have done an exceptional job in the face of nearly impossible circumstances. The mayor and governor don’t call you essential workers, but you are. Two more weeks. And while I am still trying to get you compensated for the Mayor taking your Spring break, he can’t touch your summer. Enjoy it. You’ve earned it. You’ve more than earned it.

September

Some of us, though, need to focus on September. We need to plan for next year. Chapter Leaders, Programmers, and other UFT members who are leaders and planners in your school, we need your help.

Safety First

My highest priority is keeping UFT members safe. I will not compromise on that. We are also desperate to return to some form of live class.  Society at large wants this. But I will not agree to return to buildings unless we are certain our members will be kept safe.

The Department of Education held discussions with the UFT and others. They are proposing reopening school buildings in September. They don’t think we can fully open – neither do I. They think we can follow the social-distancing guidelines established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control by using a hybrid model of learning.

The Department of Education does not currently have a Workable Plan

Armed with just the rudiments of this idea, not a plan, the Department of Education is attempting to move forward. They created a powerpoint for principals, and sent them a letter directing them to start planning (powerpoint and letter attached). But there is not enough in those documents to say that we have a clear framework. The ideas in the DoE’s powerpoint – I do not think they amount to a workable plan. I doubt as written they could be used to create a workable plan in most schools.

We have a Fallback

Our fallback position – and we do not want this to happen – but our fallback position is that any school without a detailed, workable plan should open in September providing remote instruction.

How can we avoid this fallback? That’s where you come in. We need our best minds on the job. Chapter Leaders and Programmers, work with your Principals and Administrators. Consider all options that occur to you. Do not feel limited by the powerpoint. Dig into the details. See what parts work and what parts don’t.

This is a full-court press. Expect that the work will be hard, and drag through the summer. You will hit dead ends, and keep going. We are trying to do something that has not been done before – have on the job teacher leaders and planners rethink how and when students enter schools, and how and when teachers teach them, for a system the size of the entire state of Rhode Island. We are creating a Manhattan Project for scheduling schools in a pandemic.

The UFT Will Coordinate Distributed Planning

I want you to share your findings, both what might work, what is promising, and where obstacles occur with X. X will be the UFT point person for planning for September. X will take an idea that has promise in one school and share it with other schools. Likewise, as we encounter surprising difficulties, X will share those out. X will link our best planning minds across the city, making sure that insights and progress are shared, and that we are not reinventing the wheel 1800 times.

As we begin to create plans that work, I want you to pull them apart, look for every weakness. We need you to use your unique knowledge of your school to find things that an outsider would not notice. Before we put our members in a building, we want to have considered as many angles as possible.

If in the next weeks, or more likely over the summer, your school does believe that it has found a plan that works, there will still be more to do. The UFT’s safety department will review the plan, and we will ask a public health expert to perform the same work in parallel. We will not allow UFT members to work under a plan that has not been approved by both the UFT’s Safety department and an outside public health expert.

Current Ideas

The Department of Education proposes keeping the number of people in each school building significantly lower and establishing practices and policies in schools that keep the intermingling of large groups of people to a minimum. These seem like necessary conditions.

A  hybrid model of learning might have students in schools for part of the time and continue learning remotely for the rest. A team approach is possible, with one set of staff members assigned to work with each cohort of students. The number of cohorts at each school might be determined by how many people your school building can safely accommodate combined with decisions regarding the use of nontraditional space for instruction.

Current Challenges

With social distancing restrictions in place, an A/B rotation is unlikely to work in many schools. Morning entry will be a logistical challenge. Lunch and bathroom use will be challenges. Stairways and elevators must be addressed. We believe the state will give us waivers on seat time, but that needs to be confirmed. Teachers will need time and space for remote instruction. The list of challenges is extensive, and in the coming days we will flesh it out further.

You might consider which services can most easily be provided remotely, or which are hardest to provide remotely. You might consider leaving some grades or subjects remote. If you conceive of a schedule that is non-traditional, but respects the spirit of the contract, let us know – maybe we could make it work.

What Else?

We are asking Chapter Leaders to compile a list of personnel who work on planning and programming for each school, with contact information. Your principal just received a capacity estimate for each room in your building. The DoE asked the principal to confirm or correct those numbers. Please review this with your principal, and participate with him or her in correcting the estimate.

The DOE, in consultation with the UFT, is establishing citywide testing and tracing infrastructure and resources, entry screening, the provision of personal protective equipment including masks for all staff and students, stepped-up daily school cleaning, myriad social-distancing measures and clear protocols for the communication and notification of new virus cases in schools. The UFT has recommended that all students and staff be tested for the coronavirus before the first day of school in September. The UFT will monitor the DoE’s performance closely. Teachers and students will not enter buildings where protocols are not being followed.

You have done phenomenal work this school year in the toughest of circumstances. Thank you for your tremendous work and dedication to your students.

Stay safe and healthy.

Wish the president had written this.

Instead:

Dear Jonathan,

With this extraordinary school year drawing to a close, we must now turn our attention to planning the next one despite the uncertainty about what the future holds.

The Department of Education, in consultation with the UFT and others, is moving forward with a tentative plan to reopen school buildings in September with an abundance of safety measures in place to protect staff, our students and the families we all go home to.

But it will not be a traditional school year. To follow the social-distancing guidelines established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the number of people in each school building will have to be significantly lower and we’ll have to establish practices and policies in schools that keep the intermingling of large groups of people to a minimum.

That’s why we have gravitated to a hybrid model of learning in which students are in schools for part of the time and continue learning remotely for the rest. A team approach probably makes the most sense with one set of staff members assigned to work with each cohort of students. The number of cohorts at each school will be determined by how many people your school building can safely accommodate combined with decisions regarding the use of nontraditional space for instruction.

In a school system as large and diverse as ours, no one-size-fits-all model will work for all schools. With tools and guidance from the DOE, each school community will be tasked with designing the program plan that works best for its staff, students and families. We will be asking chapter leaders to initiate these conversations with their principals and quickly engage the entire school community so the best decisions are made.

The virus has put us in an impossible place, so no plan will be perfect. We will all need to be flexible. Things we have taken for granted, such as how and where we do our work, have already been upturned during this remote era. When we return to school buildings, we will not pick up where we left off in mid-March either. These changes must be made for safety’s sake.

How to staff this new hybrid model is one of the challenges ahead of us. Will certain educators be fully remote and others always on-site, or will most staff follow a hybrid model like their students? How will related service providers provide their support services to students with disabilities? Every building will need at least one school nurse, but our students will also need social workers and other mental health professionals who can help them recover from the trauma wrought by this pandemic.

The DOE has committed to offering accommodations to staff members with high-risk medical conditions in accordance with CDC guidelines.

The DOE, in consultation with the UFT, is establishing citywide testing and tracing infrastructure and resources, entry screening, the provision of personal protective equipment including masks for all staff and students, stepped-up daily school cleaning, myriad social-distancing measures and clear protocols for the communication and notification of new virus cases in schools. The UFT has recommended that all students and staff be tested for the coronavirus before the first day of school in September.

I will work ceaselessly as your union president to make sure policies and procedures are in place in September that allow us to fulfill our professional mission as public school educators while safeguarding the health and safety of our school communities. If I lose confidence at any point, I will not hesitate to speak out. You have my promise.

You have done phenomenal work this school year in the toughest of circumstances. I am confident that you will rise to the new challenges ahead. Thank you for your tireless work and dedication to your students.

Stay safe and healthy.

Sincerely,

Michael Mulgrew signature

Michael Mulgrew
UFT President

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