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Mulgrew Didn’t Do It

December 2, 2020 pm31 2:04 pm

Two weeks ago Bill de Blasio announced New York City schools would be moving to all-remote. A strange story has developed. It is not true

Here is the false narrative: The schools should not have been closed; the schools should reopen; 3% is too low a trigger to close schools; and Mulgrew and the United Federation of Teachers are to blame.

The most prominent proponents of this myth are Andrew Cuomo and The New York Times. And it is a myth. False.

When Mulgrew heard the news he was flummoxed. Astonished. Flabbergasted. Taken aback. The UFT, he said, had fought hard to OPEN the schools. The report that the UFT had set an artificially low trigger for closure, he said, was not true. That 3%? That was the Mayor’s. And, for good measure, Mulgrew added that he would be happier with the Governor’s zone approach (true) and that he himself had suggested that approach in the summer (possibly true. Sounds familiar. I can’t find it in writing.)

But Mulgrew’s short answer: what The New York Times were claiming – false. He didn’t say Cuomo was wrong, because he doesn’t say that, but we know. And I can confirm that Mulgrew was correct.

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The spring was miserable for students and teachers. The teaching was not even close to what we do in person. And it was really hard on everyone. We were exhausted. We were suffering from all the screen time. We wanted nothing more than to return to our classrooms.  And I was eager to help plan for the return.

When social distancing and space numbers came out, I wanted to help. And I worked on the numbers. And I talked to people. And I realized, nope. Not in NYC, not with these numbers of students, not with such limited space. And, importantly, not with the people we have at the top doing the planning without input from people who are capable of planning (who are not the people at the top).

By early summer I was advocating a remote opening. The City’s blended plans were nuts. (I was predicting they would lead to chaotic situations in the schools – that did not transpire, mostly because, and I did not foresee this, the huge majority of parents refused to send their kids into the buildings). But it wasn’t just the chaos. The blended plans were disorganized. They would disrupt instruction.

I called and organized. Discussed. Met. Blogged. I was fighting, every step of the way, against de Blasio and Carranza.

At first I didn’t get what was going on with the UFT leadership. Mulgrew began every meeting by saying “the numbers” “New York City” “safety” “we have an obligation to open”

With time it became apparent. I was fighting every step of the way against de Blasio and Carranza. And Mulgrew. There had been, formally or informally I do not know which, an agreement. Blended learning, I heard whispers, had been initially a UFT proposal to the DoE.

When we tried to get the union to release members’ opinions – some sort of feedback – some sort of survey – nothing. They didn’t want it. They had already made their minds up.

When the intractable problem of lunch arose we got a note – written in UFT Teachers Center language, explaining how “instructional lunch” was cool.

When the DoE flubbed ventilation checks (and allowed its inspectors to talk to principals) the UFT stepped in. The UFT sent in inspectors – not safety folks, but caucus members. They were instructed not to talk to folks in the schools, inclusing chapter leaders. And they filled in, often partially, some checklist, but they did not declare rooms fit or not fit to be used.

As July rolled into August members were getting edgier. There were more obvious problems in the “plans” and more obvious gaps in safety. The leadership preferred talking about safety, set some relatively low bars (eg. ppe must be delivered) and began some strike talk (which did not go well).

Mulgrew was doing what he could to handle member restiveness. And the focus on safety (where changes could happen) made a lot more sense for him than on school planning and organizing (which, constrained by “blended learning”, was irreparable.)

And during that focus on safety, de Blasio offered up the 3%. That’s a tighter trigger than anywhere else in the state. It was a gift to Mulgrew, to help him quell member unrest. And it helped a little.

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Michael Mulgrew has been working tirelessly since at least June to open New York City school buildings.

He has ignored contrary advice. He has avoided soliciting opinions from union members.

He has “explained” questionable City policies such as “instructional lunch” and “blended learning” – and may have even proposed them to the Department of Education.

When the DoE revealed its incompetence (ventilation checks) Mulgrew put his apparatus to work to give the appearance that schools were being inspected.

And yes, when de Blasio proposed 3%, Mulgrew gladly accepted it – because it made it easier to sell a September reopening to a suspicious membership.

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But when The NY Times and the NY Governor accuse Mulgrew of sabotaging reopening by insisting on a 3% threshold? They are being willfully dishonest. Mulgrew has put reopening before all else – a fact which leaves many members concerned.

Life in Hell

One Comment leave one →
  1. Quinn Zannoni permalink
    December 5, 2020 am31 12:25 am 12:25 am

    Johnathon, your reporting is fantastic, thank you for your writing during this time.

    One thing you left out that’s really important — the City DID have a local school shutdown protocol. We shut down a number of schools based on zip codes having weekly rates above 3% already in early October. So saying that this local-shutdown-approach is some kind of win when it was already in place is rubbage.

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