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March 14, 2020

March 14, 2021 pm31 2:08 pm

One year ago today.

One year ago today was Saturday. NYC public school attendance had been plummeting. But schools were scheduled normally for Monday, March 16.

Cuomo and de Blasio were still insisting that schools stay open. Not just de Blasio, but Cuomo too. Those of you blinded by him not being batshit nuts during his press conferences, don’t forget how bad he was. And not just about nursing homes. And group homes for the developmentally disabled. March 14, 2021, the mayor and governor were insisting that schools stay open.

1199 did not want to close schools. They were concerned about how their members – crucial hospital workers – could work if they suddenly had childcare needs thrown on them. Many teachers were sympathetic. Eventually we got REC centers, but on March 14 this was very much part of the conversation.

The UFT was recommending to de Blasio that he close schools. “Recommend” is weak language, right? And that recommendation was not made until Friday March 13. Read Mulgrew’s press release. He agreed to disagree? Also, the UFT leadership started a petition on March 13 to de Blasio to close schools. It got lots of signatures, though not nearly as many as the earlier member-initiated petition to Cuomo.

Side note – it was already clear that the UFT leadership was afraid of criticizing Cuomo. This foreshadowed April, when they went ballistic when de Blasio took away Good Friday, but Mulgrew told members to suck it up when Cuomo stole Spring Break.

I have heard some confusion about Mulgrew threatening to go to court. We need to be precise. Mulgrew DID threaten court action – but it was not to close NYC public schools. The NYCDoE was violating its own rules and keeping schools open after a positive COVID-19 case. UFT members were terrified. Terrified. And the UFT leadership knew that members were being sent back into buildings where there were positive cases the previous day. A good union leader would have shown up at the school and said “our members, your employees, will not be put at risk. Our students, your students, will not be put at risk. No one is entering this building today.” That’s what a good union leader would have done. But the DoE and the UFT are infested by lawyers and people who trust lawyers more than they trust teachers. Mulgrew did not stand in front of a school and say “No, not today, we will not let you put our members and students at risk.” Mulgrew did tell his lawyers to file some papers – not to close the NYC public school system, but to enforce the rule closing a school after a positive case.

Teachers were waiting. Calm before the storm. The MORE caucus was organizing a sickout for Monday, March 16.  After a large amount of initial interest, teachers I knew were deciding that they were not quite ready. But I’ll tell you what. Mulgrew knew about the threatened sickout. de Blasio knew about the threatened sickout. And Cuomo knew about the threatened sickout. And even if Monday would have been a day (or two, or three) early, certainly some teachers would have joined the sickout. And other teachers would have called out sick, without being part of the sickout, but who would have known the difference? And that would have added numbers. And a small sickout Monday would have been larger Tuesday, and larger… The threat was real, it was on the union leaders’ and politician’s minds. And it helped get to shutdown faster. And organizing a credible threat is hard. Just ask UFT reps about the end of August 2020. MORE is due credit here.

March 14, 2020 COVID-19 was spreading, rapidly, in New York. We did not know the extent. Routine testing was not in place. But we’d seen the news. We knew that numbers might rise quickly. And they did. March 16 there were 235 new cases in New York State. On March 20 3053. On March 24 5518. On March 28 7253. And there were 8107 new cases on April 1.

Saturday March 14, 2020 was a strange day for teachers. We had this feeling in the pit of our stomachs.  We did not know what to expect. The stores were running out of the three major food groups: pasta, hand sanitizer, and paper towels. The politicians were dithering. Cuomo and de Blasio were squabbling idiots. Our union was moving, but with caution, when we needed swift action. The news was scary.

The next day, Sunday March 15, 1199 president George Gresham changed his mind, and supported closing schools. Then Cuomo fell into line. And then, late Sunday afternoon de Blasio.

None of us yet knew how crummy remote teaching would be. Few of us had lost friends, family, colleagues, or acquaintances. And none of us knew how long this crisis would last. But at that moment: deep sigh of relief.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 14, 2021 pm31 3:40 pm 3:40 pm

    The only thing I’ll add here is that, it was not MORE-UFT who started the call for sick-outs but followed along with what educators were calling for across the city and made it more pubic. And, according to Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer which is the only public acknowledgment of a possible statistic, 60 to 70% of staff at certain schools were calling out. We will never know how many educators call it out sick, but that was a big reason why that Monday was a so-called snow day and we went back in Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday that week, because so many had called out sick Monday.

  2. 3/16-3/18/2020 permalink
    March 16, 2021 am31 12:11 am 12:11 am

    Trump was visited. Extremely happy karma is now visiting Cuomo. DeBlasio and Mulgrew will eventually be visited as well.

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