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President's Perspective

Our members step up — as always

New York Teacher

At last, 2020 is drawing to a close. It was one of our most challenging years. But, as always, you stepped up. I want to thank you for helping us to do what no other large city was able to do: open schools safely for our children.

Nothing is easy about what we are doing. After the abrupt shutdown of the schools in March, you rolled up your sleeves and mastered a range of technology to begin remote teaching.

You shared your expertise with one another, across classrooms, buildings and school districts. And when we reopened in September, schools were safe because we put a plan in place. You were the eyes and ears for the 50-point safety plan that guided us.

Everyone did their jobs and followed the rules of wearing a mask and social distancing. When elementary and District 75 schools reopened in December after a brief shutdown, the school system built on lessons learned and the constantly evolving knowledge about how the virus spreads and how it is contained.

This pandemic has upended so many lives. We’ve lost family members, friends and colleagues. And now our communities have experienced economic devastation. Many of our students and their families face a harsh winter. Unemployment continues to rise. The number of New Yorkers who are homeless is rising, and with the moratorium on evictions expiring at the end of December, massive evictions are expected in January. At the same time, food pantries are running out of food and blood banks have seen donations drop.

We know that what happens in our communities reaches into the schools, and we will see the impact of these multiple crises ripple through our classrooms for months and years to come. The social and emotional damage will be severe.

As we have in the past, we are working with community partners to address their needs. These partners include the Coalition for the Homeless, the Food Bank for New York City and the Hispanic Federation to name just a few. Our union tradition of helping our communities continues to be essential.

Members contributed nearly $30,000 in November toward the purchase of new coats for children who live in shelters. They are opening their hearts and wallets again this December to buy toys for deserving children in our public schools.

With food lines lengthening and food pantry stocks dwindling, the UFT is organizing to help local food pantries purchase the food they need to support our communities. The UFT United Community Schools network has helped feed more than 6,000 families this year through its partnership with city food pantries. Each month, UFT members at the union’s Bronx borough office volunteer to pack more than 600 boxes of food — each enough to feed a family of four for two weeks.

Let’s remember it’s important to be there for each other, too, and to treat each other with kindness, compassion and respect. We can disagree and still listen to one another respectfully. We know what we can accomplish when we pull together.

The good news is that there is a light at the end of the tunnel of this very dark year. Multiple vaccines have been developed. A new administration in Washington, D.C., shares our values and has vowed to defend public education and to listen to the concerns of public school educators and their unions.

You can be sure we will hold them to those promises.

Have a safe and happy holiday season.