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Week 2 – Teaching Remotely – NYC in Pandemic

March 30, 2020 am31 7:55 am

There’s a lot to worry about today. Medical supplies, and infection rates. Emergency rooms. Goods in stores. Mortgage. Rent. Politics. Am I going to get it?

In the midst of all this, tens of thousands (how many are we? sixty-thousand? seventy-thousand?) New York City teachers, and thousands more counselors, therapists, paraprofessionals – we’ve reached your kids – set up something like classes – made an attempt to teach. (Also supporting – parent coordinators, school secretaries. Administrators and central staff are also involved, most support us, though some have gotten in our way, that’s a different post).

What we are doing is strange. There are elements of classes, but your kids are home. Watch a video? That’s homework. Answer questions? That’s homework. Interact with a teacher live on one of many platforms (I use Zoom and Google Meetup)? That’s homework. It’s an all-homework, all-the-time model of schooling.

(Nothing could make starker the inequities in our system than an “all-homework” school – when 10% of our students do not have a home – but that’s another discussion)

Some teachers are loud – there are things wrong, and they must be addressed. There was evil done by bureaucrats, and there must be a reckoning. Information has to be shared and gotten out there. It is important that we have the vocal few.

But most teachers are slogging away. Planning for lessons when there is no template. Interacting with children in ways they are imagining and reimagining on the spot. Making hundreds of thousands of mistakes every day, and correcting them.

Teaching last Friday was much better than teaching last Monday. But it was still bizarre, and often wrong, and yes we are closer but no, I do not know to what.

There’s an army out there, an army that is used to knowing what we are doing, an army that is suffering, because today we do not know. But working hard all the same, occupying your children’s time. Probably teaching them a little. Probably giving them the sense, or the illusion, that at least something during this crazy time, something, is, if not normal,  vaguely familiar.

Tomorrow? We Teach

March 22, 2020 pm31 8:02 pm

Hey, a little while ago, or in a little bit, I might write about what’s going wrong – complaints, blaming those in charge, expressing anger at the virus….

But right now – NYC teachers, we are in for tomorrow. Virtual teaching. Day 1. Best of luck!

If you can do well off the start – fantastic! If you don’t get there tomorrow – it might take a few days. But we will get there. Be patient with yourself. This is hard.

Don’t expect to recreate your whole classroom – or to teach as much as you normally teach.  You’ll miss some administrative stuff. It’s ok. Things will go wrong – it’ll happen to many of us. You are not alone.

Tomorrow you will think about lessons. You might think about grading. In some schools you might have to worry about attendance (why???) You might have to move a virtual card.  You’ll probably have to think about e-mails.

But for a moment tomorrow, think about this instead: a system of over one million children just ground to a halt. Tomorrow you, you personally, are playing a role in restarting it.

And think about this: You are trying to provide a modicum of instruction, of structure, and of personal contact to your students. You will try your best. And even if they don’t say it, your kids will be appreciate it, and will be happy to see you.



NYC Schools Closed – What Happened?

March 18, 2020 pm31 8:32 pm

Cuomo announced that all New York State schools will be closed for two weeks. Nassau and Suffolk schools are closed. Sunday late afternoon de Blasio announced that NYC public schools will be closed through April 20…  But Sunday morning the landscape looked different.

My late conversion

I understand why people were minimizing things. They were afraid. Or they didn’t understand. Some early articles took an optimistic view of the spread or mortality. Trump’s stuff about the flu, it sounded plausible, especially if you did not want to face what was coming.

A week ago I was still minimizing.  Wednesday I coughed. I was in the Staff Room. I covered my cough with my hand. And got scolded and instructed to go wash immediately. I listened. (which I do not always do). And then a former student, Katie, working in Seattle, posted a “here’s why this is serious” article. There’s a few good ones going around. That was one of them. I read it. And read it again. The numbers made sense. And were scary. I felt a low-grade panic…

Wednesday night I starting sharing information with members via email (parent teacher conferences, etc). Thursday night a members texted; “de Blasio is delusional. The Union needs to put pressure on him to close the schools” and Friday morning I asked that member, with another activist, if we should do a petition.  And we did. Everyone signed.

Pressure to close schools mounts

Earlier a group had started a petition to Cuomo to close schools (people are still signing – count up to 337,000). And then there were articles, and calls by politicians, and petitions by other teachers, and parents, and medical experts. Other counties closed schools. Parochial schools closed. The CDC stepped up their school closure guidance.

There was pushback. There were concerns about healthcare workers, who we need at work, getting stuck with kids home. There was concern about getting meals to kids who depend on school lunch. There was even concern about kids out of school spreading the virus.


The UFT was generally on the right side, but slow to push and surprisingly timid when they did. Each new step the city or state took, the union did its normal job of protecting members’ CAR, right to sick days, etc. But the UFT was not in the forefront, at first, of the advocacy to close schools. They called on members to sign a petition – the UFT started one (people are still signing – count up to 160,000) a few days after the big one – and to call 311, but it took until Friday to see Mulgrew recommend de Blasio to “close the schools.” But even there, a member – pretty regular guy – in my school wrote me to complain “Why ‘recommend’? We should ‘demand!”

Communication was weak – with members learning about the union’s stance in the press, and hours or even a full day before getting direct communication from our union. And even when the UFT sounded like it was roaring, it wasn’t necessarily so – see this story about them suing to close the schools – it turned out that “City teachers to file labor complaint to try to shut schools” only applied to a handful of schools. To be fair, some mid-level leaders were much stronger – but you get judged by the guy at the top…


A number of teachers starting talking about a sickout. I heard rumors about Wednesday. I heard whispers about Monday. Several teachers, not normally involved in union politics, asked me about it. There was an organizing call – they had been invited. I count 14 people altogether, from a variety of schools and political or apolitical backgrounds, who spoke to me. The variety of people made me more interested. The mayor heard. The governor heard. The UFT president heard – and pushed back.

By the time the Sunday evening organizing call rolled around, most of the people I knew who had been interested, but not previously committed, had stepped back. I sensed that the moment had not arrived for such a huge step, and I explained to my members, and then to others, that I did not think we should do it Monday. But the organizers had made a point. Cuomo, de Blasio, and Mulgrew had noticed. The announcement about the UFT’s suit or restraining order or whatever it was, that was pushed by the threatened sickout. Cuomo was pushed by it. And eventually de Blasio got dragged along. But not right away. Even Sunday morning he was clutching onto what was clearly an untenable position. His own aides were threatening to quit. But it took more to move him.

1199 leads, Cuomo follows, de Blasio was last

1199 had opposed closing schools. But with the local politics rapidly unfolding, and more good medical reporting on what was happening elsewhere, and very clear explanations of “flattening the curve”, and discussion of how health care workers’ kids would be cared for, Sunday afternoon 1199’s President, George Gresham, issued a statement calling for the schools to be closed.

Cuomo, who is getting credit for being good on much of this Covid-19 stuff, had been wishy washy on schools. But he quickly followed suit.

And hours after defiantly, stupidly, and pigheadedly insisting schools would stay open, de Blasio folded. Sunday late afternoon it was done.


Let’s move our schools towards closure. Steps teachers can take now

March 15, 2020 pm31 1:11 pm

NYC’s Mayor is foot-dragging. Leadership is required, and none is offered.

The Centers for Disease Control revised its guidance. NYC is not complying with CDC guidance.

The CDC recommends a school with a case to be closed 2-5 days for cleaning. We are closing for 1 day. And apparently finding excuses to skip schools which should be cleaned.

The CDC recommends, where community spread is minimal to moderate (NYC may be moderate) to use social distancing strategies, like limiting how many kids are in the hallway at one time. The CDC is national. They don’t offer social distancing recommendations for the subway. How could they?  At my school, most kids arrive by subway.

The CDC recommends, where community spread is substantial (we are getting there), closing schools for eight weeks.

This strategy will “flatten the curve” and reduce the amount by which our healthcare system is overloaded.

What can we, teachers, do?

Lobby –


  • Coordinate with your administration. Create a plan for an orderly shutdown. Choose a date you will be ready.  (if it is not Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, try again)
  • Make plans to post assignments online.  Or make packets.
  • Make provisions for kids without computer access, if necessary. Telephone calls?  Texting images?  Pick up protocol?
  • Make plans for homework. Online submission?  Other?
  • Make plans to suspend in-person tests. Please.  Skip testing. Or on-line tests?  Or take-home tests?
  • Make plans to offer leniency on grades, or to skip reporting for a marking period. Final grades have to be done – but SKIP the MARKING PERIOD GRADE – doesn’t that make sense?

Support your union / ask for your union’s support

  • Make the calls they ask you to make. Sign the petitions.
  • Tell them we need to force the mayor’s hand.
  • Tell your District Rep, your Borough Rep, your VP, the officers that your school is ready to close, or the date your school will be ready to close.
  • Tell your reps that the Mayor’s hand must be forced, and that we are willing, standing together, to do so.

Sick out?

  • There is discussion and planning swirling about.
  • I do not think this is a good idea today.
    • It is illegal. Members would face financial penalties.
    • We need an orderly shut-down, not an ad hoc one.
    • And we need to work with parents/children/community. This could blindside them.
  • But a sick out, or other illegal action may be necessary to force the mayor’s hand. I am telling my UFT reps this. If the mayor gives us no choice, I am willing to take whatever steps are necessary to overrule him and correct course.
  • Me, my family, my coworkers, my students, their parents, and the entire city deserve nothing less.

Coronavirus and the Campaign to Close Schools – note to members

March 14, 2020 am31 10:31 am

Some Updates:


this if for UFT members at the HS of American Studies at Lehman College. If you are not a UFT member at HSAS, I am sharing this with you 1) for your information 2) so you can take some of the action steps 3) so you can share this with others. This is especially true if you are a teacher in another school.


Information is in regular type. I’ve bolded action steps.


Mulgrew made a public statement urging de Blasio to close the schools.

(full text at bottom)


NYSUT made a statement urging Cuomo to close all schools in counties with confirmed cases.

(full text at bottom)


City Councilman Mark Treyger (former UFT member, think he was a guidance counselor in Brooklyn) has proposed keeping a small number of schools open in each borough as social service centers (A “summer school” model). This is the solution that the City needs, and addresses the real concerns that some people had about school closures. This matches what is being done in other locations where schools are closing (LA, Cleveland, towns in Connecticut)

(full text at bottom)


There is a petition to Cuomo to close schools.  Please sign. It takes a few seconds.


There is a UFT petition to de Blasio to close schools. Please sign. It takes a few seconds.


The UFT urges us to call 311. That’s a pretty quick call.


The UFT urges us to tweet @NYCMayor. I don’t know who has a Twitter account, but if you do…


I tweeted and facebook-shared our petition. It was retweeted by a reporter for NY1, and by a reporter from Chalkbeat. A teacher from another school sent it to the NY Times. I don’t expect these news outlets to report on us, but we add backdrop to the ongoing narrative. Bronx Collaborative HS (in Clinton) circulated the petition (school name changed, the rest the same), everyone signed, and they tweeted it. (full text, typos corrected, at bottom)


I wrote to my State Senator (Jamaal Bailey – Nancy Garay is an aide) and to my State Assemblyperson (Nathalia Fernandez, Forhad Rahman is her chief of staff) urging them to lean on de Blasio and Carranza. Letters to representatives are a pain, but if you are at home, with time….



Our Petition

To:       Mayor Bill de Blasio

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew

We, the undersigned faculty and staff from the High School of American Studies at Lehman College urge you to close New York City public schools as quickly as possible.

Coronavirus is a pandemic. The 195 confirmed cases in New York City – and over 1000 are projected for next week –these are the tip of the iceberg –  the actual number is clearly much higher. Large gatherings are being stopped.

But our schools gather hundreds and thousands of children and adults each day. The twice-daily commute involves a million children and over one hundred thousand adults. Each day we hear of another NYC public school reporting a case – but the response – the closure of that school alone – is inadequate.

Schools in less densely populated areas are taking the appropriate step – closure. Districts in Nassau, Westchester, Rockland, all of Bergen County, the state of Maryland. The risk in densely populated New York City is clearly greater.

Schools provide breakfasts and lunches to many kids. The mayor needs to find a way to continue providing meals while the schools are closed.

For the safety of our students, for our safety, for the safety of all residents, commuters and visitors to New York City, our public schools must be closed as quickly as possible.


Union calls for school closures in counties affected by coronavirus

As school districts grapple with the effects of coronavirus statewide, NYSUT on Friday called for the closure of schools in counties with confirmed cases of COVID-19. The union also urged local officials to ensure the needs of students, staff and families are fairly and adequately met in the event of a school closure.

“We all have a role to play in helping to stem the spread of coronavirus and in ensuring that every child is fully supported in the event of school closures,” President Andy Pallotta said. “It’s critical that school administrators and educators are in constant communication about the right ways to keep the school community safe and healthy as we carry out our mission: educating New York’s children.”

NYSUT has published an online coronavirus toolkit that includes guidance from the state health and education departments, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and its AFT and NEA national affiliates.


“We recommend that New York City follow the example of affected jurisdictions around the region, the nation and even the world and close our public schools.

We don’t suggest this lightly. We understand the immense disruption this will create for our families. But right now more than a million students and staff crisscross the city every day on their way to schools, putting themselves and others at risk of exposure and increasing the likelihood of bringing exposure into their homes and communities.

Many local area schools, religious and public, have already closed, as have schools in Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest school system, as well as the District of Columbia, and the entire states of Michigan, Maryland, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and Oregon. The schools of entire countries have been closed to help contain the spread of the virus.

We must find ways to keep our children safe and to see that they are fed. We must do all we can to help ensure that our students can continue to learn. But we have reached the point where continuing to keep our classrooms open poses a greater lasting threat than the disruption that will result from school closings.

I have met with the Mayor and outlined our reasons for urging a shutdown. He believes the schools should stay open, though he has agreed to a number of additional safeguards and accommodations. In the end, we have decided to respectfully disagree.”


NYC Council member proposes a ‘summer school’ approach to coronavirus school closures



MAR 12, 2020  5:56 PM

Closing most public schools and using the rest to serve at-risk students and families who rely on them to meet basic health needs would be a good way for the Education Department to handle the coronavirus crisis, the chairman of City Council’s Education Committee said Thursday.

Councilman Mark Treyger (D-Brooklyn) wrote on Twitter that a “summer school” approach “could work in terms of a limited system shutdown while servicing the most vulnerable.”

Mark Treyger@MarkTreyger718

I’ve shared with DOE a temporary contingency plan that I believe could work in terms of a limited system shutdown while servicing the most vulnerable. I’m awaiting a response.

Shutting down schools while leaving a few school buildings open in each district would help the city provide essential services for students who need them, Treyger said.

Those services could include medical care for students with severe disabilities, food for families who rely on school meals, and child care for families who have no other option, including parents who are health care workers and are desperately needed at work.

“We should heed the warnings from health experts to create social distancing,” Treyger told the Daily News. “But at the same time we in New York City experience great inequality.”

“While attempting to address this public health emergency, you don’t want to create five more [emergencies],” he said.

Treyger said clustering students in a few schools instead of keeping all schools open for a small number of students and staff would help the city consolidate services and ensure all the open schools are equipped to meet students’ and parents’ needs.

Mayor de Blasio reiterated Thursday that the city “want[s] our schools to remain open. We intend for our schools to remain open.”

School officials announced Thursday that a Bronx student reported a positive test for the coronavirus, triggering the first daylong shutdown of two city public schools. Schools are required to close for at least 24 hours after a confirmed case, according to state guidance.

Education Department contingency plans include remote learning programs and free meals for students who need them, said department spokeswoman Katie O’Hanlon.

“We know the closure of a school can cause disruption and anxiety for parents, students and staff, and it’s a last resort,” O’Hanlon said.



Also – City Council Speaker Corey Johnson:

NEW YORK – “It is time to close our public schools for the safety and wellbeing of the students, teachers, and staff.

This is not an easy decision, but we must take aggressive measures to stop the spread of coronavirus/COVID-19. Teaching and learning cannot take place under these circumstances.

The City must immediately come up with a plan that includes childcare relief for families who need it so that our essential workers, especially healthcare workers, can continue with their duties. We must also ensure meals and medical care are provided for students who rely on schools for these crucial services.

I have repeatedly said it is not time to panic. But it is time to act. We must take bold, decisive measures to do everything we can to limit the spread of coronavirus/COVID-19.

This pandemic presents an enormous challenge for us as a city. But I have complete confidence in our ability to get through this together. The decisions we make will be difficult ones, but we must move forward with the common good in mind. We must limit the spread of this virus while at the same time working to protect our most vulnerable friends, family, and neighbors.

In times of trouble New Yorkers never fail to come together. By doing so, we rise to every occasion. I have no doubt that we will weather this crisis as we have past crises. And in the end we will be stronger. This is the New York way.”


It’s Time to Close New York City’s Schools

March 13, 2020 am31 7:49 am

Public Safety is at risk – the Time to Act is Now

New York City has scores of confirmed cases –
There has been absolutely minimal testing –
No one has acquired immunity –
There are probably hundreds of actual cases

The NBA, the NHL, the NCAA, MLB
New Rochelle, Yonkers, Bergen County, all of Maryland
Gatherings of 1000
But NYC Public Schools congregate hundreds and thousands of children and adults each day
Keeping NYC schools open sends 1,000,000 children and 100,000 adults into the subway and on to buses twice each day.

Shutting down schools, other forms of social distancing, even lockdown –
these slow the spread
these allow healthcare workers to respond adequately
Why, with only 100 cases in NYC, 300 in NYS?
Because the real number is much higher, and because the numbers are growing rapidly.

Countries that have controlled the virus have done it with lockdowns.
Each day earlier a lockdown starts, with exponential growth, reduces the total number of cases by a lot.
Those places that locked down earlier had better results.

Schools provide meals to kids.
De Blasio has to figure out how to distribute meals with schools closed.

Use the weekend to figure it out. And close schools today!

The safety of eight million New Yorkers is at stake.

On rate of transmission, and lockdown:

On the load on healthcare systems:

Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s statement:
“Large-scale school closures should be considered, and a decision needs to be made before the end of this week. We must have a plan in place to make sure services continue for families who rely on our schools to provide meals and medical and other crucial services. “

Super Tuesday and 15% and Not Dropping Out

March 1, 2020 pm31 2:58 pm

Delegate math is interesting.

Nate Silver at 538 is projecting a high probability of no one walking into the convention with enough delegates. Who knows what’s actually going to happen between now and then, and who knows what outside intervention (I’m thinking Carter/Mondale/Clinton/Gore/Obama) will tip the scales, but…

There’s interesting delegate math for Tuesday.

Polls put Biden up across the south. Toss up in Texas. Sanders ahead everywhere else. Including by a bit over Warren in Massachusetts, and a tiny bit over Klobuchar in Minnesota. We’ll see.

Delegates are awarded proportionately in each state, and in each congressional district, from among the candidates reaching 15%. And that’s where life gets interesting.

Sanders is breaking 15% in every state coming up, and in almost every Congressional District. I haven’t done the counting, but it looks like he is leading in most congressional districts that vote Tuesday.

But “leading a state” doesn’t tell us very much about how the delegates are given out. Consider California, with 144 statewide delegates. The 538 polling average at this moment says:

Sanders 33, Biden 21, Warren 15, Bloomberg 14, Buttagieg 9, Klobuchar 5

If the vote turns out exactly like that, Sanders/Biden/Warren qualify for statewide delegates, and earn 69, 41, and 34 respectively.  (Math:  Sanders would get 33/(33+21+15) = 33/69 of 144, etc)

If Bloomberg goes up 1%, hits 15, he would also qualify and they would earn 57 for Sanders, 36 for Biden, and 25 each for Bloomberg and Warren.

If instead Warren dropped 1%, to 14%, only Sanders and Biden would qualify, and they would split the delegates 88-56.

That’s a pretty big swing, 30 delegates for Sanders, on whether Bloomberg or Warren or both hit 15%. And similar scenarios will be playing out across states and congressional districts across the country.

Back to the convention – Silver thinks that Sanders will arrive with the most delegates, just not a majority. His average projection has Sanders with 1641 of the 1991 he would need. That’s 350 short, and it makes the math around small delegate swings quite important.

Sanders needs as many two-way splits as possible.  He might in a few districts get a “winner-take-all” situation because the others divide the vote (or he rolls up a massive majority, as he is likely to do in Vermont).

Know what happens if Amy and Pete drop out?  California gets split four ways. If Warren drops out? California gets split three ways, with Biden/Bloomberg delegate horse-trading very likely in our future.

In other words, Sanders’ best look on is probably a one-on-one with Biden (maybe?), but his second best is for all of the major candidates to stay in, at least through Tuesday. That’s his best route for getting into two-way splits and pushing his delegate total near or above 50%.

Latest 538 averages – Who is near 15%?

State Sanders Biden Bloomberg Warren Buttagieg Klobuchar
Cali 33 21 14 15 9 5
Texas 28 28 18 12 7 4
NC 24 32 18 11 7 5
Virginia 26 27 19 11 10 6
Mass 27 15 13 22 13 7
Minn 25 13 7 13 11 27
Colorado 31 17 14 16 12 6
Tennessee 23 31 20 10 8 4
Alabama 20 37 20 8 7 4
Oklahoma 21 24 21 11 11 7
Arkansas 23 24 21 9 14 5
Utah 31 10 16 17 15 5
Maine 29 17 16 15 15 5
Vermont 57 7 8 9 12 5
Am Samoa 28 26 20 11 7 4

In several states, Klobuchar dropping out could push one or two candidates past the 15% line. Look at California, Massachusetts, Colorado, Arkansas. In several more candidates who are teetering just above the line would become more secure.

If Klobuchar drops out now, that would make it MORE likely, not less likely, that no one will reach a majority.

If Warren drops out, even if most of her votes went to Sanders, which I am not sure would happen, enough would go to the “others” to push some over the 15% line in some states (and in many congressional districts). It would be distinctly bad for Sanders, despite what his supporters are yammering for, for Elizabeth to leave the race now.

Strange race. Strange math.