UFT President Michael Mulgrew joined Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council of School Supervisors and Administrators President Mark Cannizzaro on Sept. 17 to announce a phased-in reopening of New York City public schools in order to assure safety and satisfy staffing concerns. Dropping his threats to lay off thousands of DOE employees, the mayor agreed to hire at least 2,600 more educators for front-line jobs in schools.
"We want our school system up, running and safe, and we want to keep it up, running and safe," Mulgrew said.
More than 900 operational issue reports filed by UFT chapter leaders on behalf of their chapters and scores of protests at individual schools since Sept. 8 demonstrated a huge teacher shortage as well as gaps in safety measures. During an hours-long meeting with Mulgrew and the president of the principals union the day before, the mayor agreed to hire more staff and phase in the reopening to give schools more time to prepare.
Instead of blended learning beginning in all school buildings on Sept. 21, only 3-K, pre-K and District 75 sites — serving the students with the highest need for in-person instruction — will reopen in school buildings that day, while all other students will start classes remotely.
On Tuesday, Sept. 29, students in K–5 and K–8 schools will begin blended learning. On Thursday, Oct. 1, in-person classes will begin in middle and high schools.
In addition, besides the 2,000 redeployed staff previously announced by the mayor, de Blasio promised to hire 2,600 more District 75, early childhood, K–5 and K–8 educators. The new hires will come from among the ranks of per-diem teachers, graduate students and adjunct professors from the City University of New York, he said.
The UFT will work with the DOE to identify the additional staffing needs of middle schools and high schools.
"We have made a promise to every parent, educator and student who walks into our buildings that we are doing what needs to be done to make sure you have your education, but it is also safe," Mulgrew said. "We now have seen after a 10-day period that there are some blanks we need to fill in and we're going to do that."
Mulgrew also told his members at the press conference that "here today at this table" is the evidence their voices were heard regarding what was needed to ensure schools open safely and effectively.
The phased-in reopening gives the city and the Department of Education more time to address remaining safety issues. Mulgrew said some buildings still have ventilation concerns, but the city has committed to addressing them. There have been major improvements in the turnaround time on COVID-19 tests, he added, but work still needs to be done to ensure contact tracing is fast and effective. The DOE has procured sufficient personal protective equipment, he said, but the PPE must be delivered to all locations.
De Blasio said the city was responding to "real concerns raised" by the unions. "This is a huge undertaking. It's difficult. It's challenging. It's not the easy way. It is, in fact, the hard way," he said. "But it's the right way. I want to thank my colleagues for doing the hard work to see this through."
Mulgrew said the change in the city's reopening plans was necessary.
"The plan we had was the right plan, but it is highly complex," Mulgrew said. "In order to stick to the plan, we needed to make these changes."