Skip to content

The COVID Surge and Calls for Action

December 19, 2021 pm31 9:00 pm

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.
  • Increase access to testing by making neighborhood schools testing sites.

 

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.”

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: