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Mulgrew warns DA of more instability

New York Teacher
Mulgrew gives his report at the Delegate Assembly
Jonathan Fickies

UFT President Michael Mulgrew gives his report at the Delegate Assembly on Oct. 13 in Shanker Hall.

In what was the first Delegate Assembly in Shanker Hall since the start of the pandemic, UFT President Michael Mulgrew on Oct. 13 praised the body for its commitment and resolve in serving both students and staff despite the challenges of the last 19 months.

With those who came to union headquarters clad in pink for breast cancer awareness, and the rest of the delegates attending via telephone, Mulgrew praised their ability to nimbly adjust to the constant change.

“All of this changing is not good for us, our membership or the children of New York City,” Mulgrew said. “There has been stress on top of stress.”

Mulgrew warned that there is likely to be more instability to come, with the de Blasio administration on its way out and a new mayor — and possibly a new chancellor, and education policy changes — in January. He said the new administration can best serve its public school students “by helping schools, not just holding them accountable.”

Mulgrew noted that positive COVID-19 cases in city schools had dropped to very low levels in recent weeks as school communities followed safety and health protocols and all staff and a majority of students age 12 and older had received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Regarding COVID protocols, Mulgrew reminded delegates that educators are entitled to extra compensation when there is a partial classroom closure that requires them to teach in person and also support students who are quarantining. He said principals and superintendents created confusion by trying to redefine a partial closure.

“It’s very simple,” Mulgrew said. “It does not require a phone call from the DOE situation room. When a child is not coming to school for COVID-related reasons and you are told by an administrator to supply that child with instructional support, that should trigger the partial closing piece of our agreement.”

Mulgrew thanked chapter leaders who had responded to the union’s request for photos documenting schools not following the 3-foot rule. He said the DOE’s decision to change how it applied the 3-foot rule this school year triggered a big fight with the UFT. “The principal was told by the DOE that you now measure the 3-foot mandated distance between students from the center of a desk to center of a desk, and now a class that once was able to have 34 children in it now can have 55,” he said. “Three feet is 3 feet everywhere in the United States except inside a New York City school building. I never anticipated such a big fight over how to measure 3 feet.”

Mulgrew said he suspects these changes are politically motivated.

“We had the strictest protocols in the United States last school year,” Mulgrew said. “I believe this change is motivated by someone who is interested in going for a different political public office very soon, but this is too serious of a situation to play political games with.”

Mulgrew reported that only 41 schools had oversized classes at a time in the school year when there have been more than 600 in previous years — but it was not a reason to celebrate.

“We only have 132 oversized classes, but how the heck do you have oversized classes during a pandemic?” he asked.