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Know Your Rights

School safety during the pandemic

New York Teacher
Rubber gloves, sanitizing and face masks

Keeping school staff and students safe is paramount during this evolving pandemic. The stringent safety policies the UFT ensured were in place during the 2020-21 school year succeeded in making public schools among the safest indoor environments in New York City. The stakes are equally high this school year, and the multiple layers of protection against COVID-19, including the vaccination of all staff and roughly three-quarters of all eligible students, are serving our school communities well.

COVID-19 building response teams

A major way that schools are kept safe is through the work of school staff on the COVID-19 building response teams. Every school should have a COVID-19 building response team made up of staff charged with ensuring all safety and health protocols and procedures are followed correctly in its school. In the first weeks of the school year, the UFT trained thousands of COVID-19 building response team members in this year’s protocols so they had the information they needed to perform their important role.

Personal protective equipment & cleaning supplies

All schools should have a 30-day supply of personal protective equipment including surgical masks for adults and children and KN95 respirators, gloves and face shields for adults.

Schools should have an adequate supply of cleaning tools and products for daily and nightly cleaning, including an electrostatic sprayer, disinfecting sprays or wipes and hand sanitizer in each room.

Check with your school’s custodian or principal if you need supplies for your classroom.

Improved ventilation protocols

Ventilation in every classroom throughout the city has been inspected, updated and repaired as needed. Each classroom in use has adequate ventilation through either natural or mechanical means or a combination of the two. In addition to the upgraded ventilation systems introduced last school year, each classroom has been equipped with two air purifiers this year. Cafeterias in bigger schools have large air units for added protection and window-based exhaust fans to provide additional air circulation. These measures meet or exceed guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The UFT has distributed carbon dioxide (CO2) monitors to its district representatives and chapter advocates; each school custodian also has one. These portable devices measure the CO2 that people in the room exhale. A room without adequate ventilation will show CO2 levels that are higher than 1,000 parts per million. If you are concerned that your classroom or workspace does not have proper ventilation, you should request a reading. Fixing the problem can be as easy as opening more windows and ensuring that vents are not blocked and the ventilation system is working. If that doesn’t solve the problem, call the union’s Safety and Health Department for help.

Testing and tracing

Students who are masked and 3 feet apart do not have to be quarantined as a close contact if a student in the same classroom tests positive for COVID.

If a positive case is found in a class, the principal, in consultation with the classroom teacher and other staff, will make a recommendation about which students should quarantine based on what they observed throughout the day. The principal will then share this information with the city’s test and trace unit, and the Department of Education’s situation room will make a decision on which students need to quarantine.

The city is testing 10% of unvaccinated students each week (up from biweekly at the beginning of the year), choosing among the eligible students who have consent forms on file.

If any safety protocol is not in place at your school, report it to your chapter leader or your UFT district representative, or call the UFT safety hotline at 212-331-6317.

For more information, check the safety FAQs.

Related Topics: Coronavirus