When the principal at PS 44 in the Bronx arbitrarily shortened the staff lunch period from 47 minutes to 41 minutes at the start of the school year, Chapter Leader Sandra Leiser filed an operational issues complaint. Four months later, she prevailed and won compensation for the school’s UFT members for the lunchtime lost during the dispute.
“I have been fighting this operational complaint since September and the months-long back-and-forth bickering from the DOE ended when we finally settled in January,” she said.
The PS 44 staff were remunerated for the total of 380 minutes of lost lunchtime during those months, and the school’s schedule was reprogrammed in January to provide for the 47-minute lunch period required in the instructional principles and programming guidance issued by the Department of Education in July 2020.
When Leiser first aired her objection, her school’s principal insisted that since the new schedule cut class time from 47 minutes to 41 minutes, lunchtime could be shortened by an equal amount. Leiser disagreed and, after many conversations with the principal, she filed an operational issues complaint to resolve the dispute.
The complaint worked its way from the school level to the district level to the central committee. At one point, the DOE offered to make up for the missing lunchtime by reducing the time required on professional activities. But Leiser refused, noting that the professional activity only covers teachers and would leave out paraprofessionals.
“I need everyone to have a full lunch period and compensation for the lost time,” insisted Leiser, an ELA teacher for six years and the chapter leader for four years at the Tremont school.
“She stuck to her guns and would not let the DOE attorneys bully her,” said District 12 Representative Steven Goldberg. “She struggled for months and won big for her members.”
ELA teacher Kelly Garzione said the chapter’s members were grateful to Leiser for the time and work she put in fighting for the appropriate lunch period. “Considering the amount of time we don’t have for all the extra work we have had to do during this pandemic, the six minutes Sandra won for us makes a huge difference,” Garzione said.
“This process is slow and it’s imperfect,” Leiser said, “but thank God for the UFT or we would have no way to redress this injustice.”