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UFT: Federal COVID funds must help students recover

New York Teacher

Invoking trauma and upheaval experienced by New York City’s children during the pandemic, UFT President Michael Mulgrew is calling for more than $1 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds to be dedicated to the needs of students battered emotionally and academically over the last year.

“Our greatest challenge is upon us — to undo the horror and damage to the children we have dedicated our lives to,” he said at a virtual press conference on March 10, where he laid out a five-point recovery proposal.

“The pandemic has been tough on all of us, but particularly on our students, many of whom will need intensive academic and psychological services, along with other interventions,” he said.

The union proposal calls for:

  • Academic intervention teams in every school.
  • Smaller class sizes in 100 of the city’s neediest schools.
  • A program to help create healing-centered classrooms.
  • Special initiatives for high school students.
  • Extended summer learning programs.

“We all know the road to recovery will be long,” he said. “The new federal funds for schools give us the opportunity to meet the challenges our children and our schools have faced for decades — challenges that have only become more acute because of COVID-19.”

For example, he said, using COVID-19 funds to reduce class size would provide a blueprint for a sustainable plan to reduce class size going forward. “The pandemic has created an opportunity to improve the system for our kids,” he said.

Classroom educators joined Mulgrew at the press conference to discuss how their students have been affected over the last year.

Pedro Dones, a math teacher at the Academy for Personal Leadership and Excellence in the Bronx, said one of his students apologized for falling behind in school work — she was living in a shelter and taking care of siblings. “So many suffer in silence,” Dones said.

For DeShanna Barker, a special education teacher at Preparatory Academy of Writers HS in Springfield Gardens, Queens, the horror of the pandemic year was brought home by a student who lost both parents within days of one another. “There are so many stories out there,” she said. “Our lives have been turned upside down.”

UFT members from northern Manhattan, led by District 5 Representative Zina Burto

A new level of investment

There is a new level of investment in public schools and it didn't happen by accident. It's a reminder that at every level, elections matter. Your voice matters. When we pull together, we can shift public policy in meaningful ways. That's our power as a union.