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President's Perspective

More challenges ahead

New York Teacher
UFT President Michael Mulgrew

UFT President Michael Mulgrew

We all know that a great year in this profession can’t happen without its challenges. And this year so far has certainly delivered the challenges.

We are operating in a constantly changing environment. You’re teaching and supporting children while enforcing social distancing and mask-wearing, conducting instructional lunches and navigating partial classroom closures. These changes, while necessary, have imposed themselves on us, our students and our educational practices. And as flexible as we all have been as we adapt to these new circumstances, it has been extremely stressful.

You were hired to work under a specific set of conditions governed by our collective bargaining agreement, but we have had to be in constant negotiation with the city and the DOE to make sure you are treated fairly and you are compensated for any additional work you are asked to do that is not covered in the contract, whether that is setting up your digital classroom or completing Special Education Recovery Service notices.

On top of COVID-19, the end of a mayoral administration is never an easy time. Mayor de Blasio has adopted new policies, often at the last minute, with little consideration for how they will play out in our schools. He seems eager to hang a “mission accomplished” banner on our schools, with an eye toward future political office. But we need to attend to the needs of our students in the here and now.

The city’s new COVID-related policies and rules for public schools this year have been frustrating. Following CDC guidance, the city shifted to the 3-foot rule in September, but then the Department of Education decided to change its guidance for what constitutes 3 feet between students. The city then suddenly changed the protocols for when unvaccinated students should need to quarantine in an effort to reduce the number of classroom closures.

We understand the desire to return to normalcy, but someone has to make sure that we are not paying the price with our health and safety. We have had to put up a fight over and over again and are still fighting every step of the way.

It has been another tough year. There is no sugarcoating it. Still, we are thankful that the number of positive COVID cases has been gradually decreasing in New York City since mid-August. The number of COVID cases in our schools has been relatively small, thanks to the vaccine and the diligence of our school communities in following health and safety protocols. But we still have to be vigilant. The union will continue to do the work we need to do to protect you and your students.

All of you have gone above and beyond in these extraordinary times, and I am so grateful. We needed your passion and determination to get through these past 20 months. I could not be more proud to represent you.

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