UFT members went door to door in August to speak with parents about their hopes and concerns about the full reopening of New York City schools for in-person instruction.
“I wanted to make sure the parents know we’re ready, we’re doing everything we can to keep kids safe, and the best place for them is to learn in person, in school,” said Leidy Rodriguez, a special education teacher at PS 150 in the South Bronx, who did outreach in that neighborhood.
“As a parent myself, when I hear from my kids’ teachers, it’s more believable than when I hear from the city or the news,” she said.
Rodriguez is one of 25 UFT members who together knocked on nearly 3,000 doors throughout the city this summer, talking with more than 1,100 parents. They shared information on school safety and health protocols and answered questions as part of the American Federation of Teachers’ 30-state “Back to School for All” initiative. Local union affiliates received grants from the national union to finance the parent outreach, and educators earned $25 an hour for an orientation in July and 10 four-hour canvassing shifts in August.
COVID-19 safety issues were parents’ main concern, with 57% bringing up the topic, while 21% asked about other school safety issues, according to union data. Pandemic-related learning loss was mentioned by 13% of parents, while 2% brought up the lack of a remote option.
Eighty-nine percent of the parents told the canvassers that they feel confident or somewhat confident sending their children back into classrooms, while 9% said they were opposed to it.
Justin Spiro, a school social worker at Maspeth HS in Queens who canvassed in Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx, said he believes it’s crucial to get kids back to school. “I’ve seen firsthand the toll it takes when students are out of school,” he said. “Whether remote or hybrid, kids haven’t had a normal day of school since March 2020.”
Even in a typical year, Spiro sees many mental health crises and suicide referrals. “Would anyone think kids are feeling less depressed or are less abused over the last 18 months?” he asked.
Craylyn Dillard-Skinner, a technology teacher at PS 63 in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, said her goal as a canvasser was to answer any and all questions.
“With the new delta variant, there are new concerns, but that’s what we do as UFT members,” she said. “We roll with the punches and make adjustments to address the needs of our students.”