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Kudos to Melissa Alvarez, John Bowne HS in Flushing, Queens

For using the new contract to resolve a safety issue
New York Teacher

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Melissa Alvarez
Jonathan Fickies

Melissa Alvarez, the chapter leader at John Bowne HS in Flushing, Queens, used the new dispute resolution process in the Department of Education-UFT contract to get a speedy response to a safety violation: no teacher had been assigned to the high school’s SAVE room.

Under state law, every New York City public school must have a SAVE room (named after the 2000 state law called the Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Act that made it a requirement). The SAVE room houses students who have been temporarily removed from their classrooms or suspended from school. Under the law, a teacher must be assigned to the SAVE room, not just to monitor students but to ensure they receive instruction.

Alvarez said her administration backed teachers who removed disruptive students, but students removed from the classroom could be found in an unstaffed SAVE room or sometimes sitting in the secretary’s office — a violation of the school secretaries’ contract, too, she noted.

“It seems contradictory to say you support removals but not have a proper SAVE room for students,” she said.

Alvarez had spoken to the principal several times about the staffing issue with no result. That’s when she filed a report with the UFT, giving the principal five days to address the issue before being escalated to the superintendent and the district rep. Her principal promptly assigned teachers to staff the SAVE room.

“Now we have a space where we’re abiding by our contract and doing what’s best for the student — not placing the student in a corner without instruction,” Alvarez said.

The dispute resolution process has given her a new lever to apply pressure. “Overall, I think I have a good working relationship with the principal and she is cooperative in getting issues resolved,” Alvarez said. “But as a chapter leader, I have to be persistent in getting issues that are important to the chapter resolved in a timely manner because many times the principal’s important issues aren’t the same as ours.”

Ysladia Araujo, a special education teacher, said a staffed SAVE room has made a big difference at Bowne HS.

“It makes our job easier,” Araujo said. “Alvarez is great. She speaks up for everybody. She’s really involved as a chapter leader.”