As schools reopen across the city, the Department of Education, in consultation with the UFT, has issued new protocols and procedures for staff. The following Q&A answers some of the most commonly asked questions about safety, instruction and student support for the 2020–21 school year. Check our FAQ on the 2020-21 school reopening for the latest updates and information.
Health and safety
How much personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies must schools have on hand?
Schools should have a 30-day supply of personal protective equipment, including surgical masks for adults and children, N95 respirators, face shields for adults, and no-contact thermometers for temperature screening. Schools must also have an electrostatic sprayer, cleaning supplies for daily and nightly cleaning, gloves, disinfecting sprays or wipes, and hand sanitizer in each room. If your school lacks appropriate supplies, please report it to your UFT chapter leader as soon as possible.
What steps has the DOE taken to ensure that our school building has adequate ventilation to protect staff against the spread of COVID-19?
Teams of DOE and UFT safety inspectors fanned out across the city in August and early September to check the ventilation system in every school. The Division of School Facilities is implementing a comprehensive and strategic approach to ensure every building has adequate ventilation.
Each school has a different ventilation system. Some schools operate with house exhausts and operable windows, while others have closed HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems. For buildings with operable windows, we suggest that the windows remain open, which will provide enough outside air to dilute the virus. If you have air conditioning units, they may remain on if there are windows to open in the classroom as well. In closed systems with HVAC, we want to see the maximum amount of outside air circulated during this pandemic. We recommend the custodian open the dampers on the roof to maximum capacity, which will improve the indoor air quality. The air conditioning may not work as effectively, but the quality of the air will be much improved.
All air filters are being cleaned, replaced or modified as required and will be maintained throughout the school year. The Division of School Facilities will also utilize filters of a higher efficiency rating, where applicable.
If you have issues or concerns, call the UFT at 212-331-6611.
What will happen if a school does not abide by the Sept. 1 safety agreement governing all schools?
No UFT member or student will be put in harm’s way. Schools must comply with the UFT’s 50-item safety plan, including social distancing in all classes and meetings, the availability of personal protective equipment, new entry/dismissal protocols and a school nurse assigned to every building. If a school fails to follow agreed-upon safety protocols once it reopens, the chapter leader should immediately report the situation to their district rep for prompt action.
Testing and tracing
Will students and teachers be tested randomly throughout the school year? How will this work?
Starting on Oct. 1, the DOE will implement a robust program of mandatory random testing at school buildings. The city will provide kits to every school each month to collect specimens and will work with the DOE to collect specimens on site in every school each month. It will be a nasal swab test, and results will be returned in 48 hours.
How many people in a school building will be tested each month?
To create a statistically significant sample size, the percentage of adults and children to be tested will be determined by the number of students enrolled in the school who have opted into blended learning:
- 20% of the individuals in schools with fewer than 500 students.
- 15% of the individuals in schools with 500 to 999 students.
- 10% of the individuals in schools with 1,000 or more students.
The percentage of staff tested and the frequency of testing will rise significantly in schools in any ZIP code that reports a percentage of positive tests of 3% or higher using a seven-day rolling average
What steps will be taken if a staff member or student tests positive for the virus?
Students or staff found to have the virus, even in the absence of symptoms, must quarantine for 14 days. City tracing teams will be dispatched to the school immediately to determine potential contacts.
What happens if a COVID-19 case is discovered?
The presence of a COVID-19 case or cases confined to one class will result in the entire class moving to remote instruction. More than one case in a school in different classes will mean the entire school will move to remote instruction until contact tracing is completed.
What benchmarks will be used to decide whether to close the entire New York City public school system?
In order for school buildings to reopen and stay open, the percentage of positive tests in New York City must be less than 3% using a seven-day rolling average. That threshold is just one trigger. A decision to close all of the school buildings in the city would be made if there were recurrent, uncontrolled outbreaks of COVID-19 in schools, even if the overall case rates across New York City were to remain low.
What if a student does not return the parent consent form for testing?
Any student enrolled in blended learning could be selected for testing. At the beginning of the school year, if a selected student’s parent/guardian has not provided consent, that student will be replaced in the sample by a similarly situated student for whom the school has the consent form. If it is determined that a school does not have sufficient student consent forms to put together a statistically valid sample size, parents who have not provided consent will again be asked for their consent at the time their child is selected for testing. If consent is not provided at that time, the student will be placed in a fully remote learning setting until they get tested.
Salary and Personnel
What should I do if I have been assigned to work on site but have not been able to line up child care for my own school-age children on days when they are learning remotely?
If your child is enrolled in a Department of Education school in 3K through 8th grade, they may be eligible to attend the Department of Education’s Learning Bridges program on days when they are learning remotely. Children of DOE employees will receive priority in the program, which will provide 100,000 seats by the end of 2020. Learn more about Learning Bridges. If you are struggling with child care, you should know that most DOE employees are eligible for two weeks of excused leave at partial pay for the care of a minor child whose school or place of care has been closed or whose child care providers are unavailable due to COVID-19 precautions.
My medical accommodation to work fully remote expires in December. When should I reapply?
If your medical condition hasn’t changed and the environmental conditions haven’t changed, you shouldn’t have to reapply. The union is working with the DOE to make sure that is the case.
Will I be paid if I test positive for the virus and am mandated to quarantine for 14 days?
Yes, you will be granted an excused leave with full pay with no charge to your cumulative absence reserve or annual leave if you have a documented positive test.
Will I be paid if I am directed to self-quarantine due to exposure to someone who has tested positive?
If a health care provider advises you to quarantine due to exposure to COVID-19, there will be no charge to your CAR or annual leave for up to two weeks.
Will I be paid if I am caring for someone who is under quarantine or an isolation order?
You would qualify for an excused leave with partial pay if you can demonstrate that person depends on you for care and you cannot work remotely while doing so. You may choose to use your accrued CAR or annual leave for up to two weeks instead of partial pay.
How long is the workday for in-person teachers and paraprofessionals?
The workday will be six hours and 50 minutes. Teachers and paraprofessionals will have a duty-free lunch period as required by the DOE-UFT contract.
What is the length of the workday for school staff other than teachers and paras?
No changes to the DOE-UFT contract were made on this issue.
When will teachers plan for instruction?
All staff will have a daily 30-minute instructional coordination period before the students’ instructional day begins to coordinate instruction and plan together. Teachers will also receive a 30-minute prep period at the end of the school day. Teachers will not be required to be in the school building during the prep period time and can engage in this unassigned professional work remotely.
Will there be a parent engagement period this school year?
Teachers will have 20 minutes of office hours scheduled during every workday to communicate with families and students.
What is the plan for parent-teacher conferences this year?
There will be no September or May parent-teacher conferences. The November and March conferences will take place remotely in accordance with the DOE calendar for the 2020-21 school year [see page 33].
When will faculty and grade/department conferences take place this year?
Schools will have one faculty and one grade/department conference per month. These conferences will be 40 minutes each and will occur at the end of the school day, immediately prior to the teachers’ 30-minute prep. During this time, principals may assign teachers to administrative duties or professional learning. The UFT and the DOE are in discussion about establishing common-sense policies regarding work that can be done remotely.
How will special education teachers document instructional programs for blended and fully remote students this year?
The Special Education Program Adaptations Document (PAD) will replace the Remote Learning Plan for the 2020–21 school year. Designed to memorialize a collaborative conversation between the family and the student’s special education teacher/case manager, the PAD, along with the student’s schedule, documents how the student’s special education program will be implemented in blended and fully remote learning environments. The PAD differs from the remote learning plan in several respects. First, the PAD prepopulates the student’s recommended instructional program, related services and certain other information from the student’s Individualized Education Program. Second, the PAD describes the model for delivering the student’s instructional program in blended and fully remote learning environments and gives the teacher the opportunity to explain any adjustments to the model in the school and the class. Also included are information about instruction and support for English language learners and implementation of paraprofessional services, assistive technology and behavior intervention plans. A separate Related Service PAD will address adaptations to related service delivery.
How should related service providers schedule in-person services for blended learning students on their caseload?
Related service providers should start with the child’s Individualized Education Program because the first objective is to deliver related services as close to the IEP mandate as possible. Next, make every effort to accommodate the parent’s preferences for in-person and remote services and, given the limited amount of time students will be in school, the parent’s preference for classroom-based services or services in a separate location. Adherence to health and safety requirements for social distancing (either the classroom cannot accommodate another person or the space assigned to the provider is too small for a group) may mean the service cannot be delivered in accordance with the IEP and/or the parent’s preference cannot be honored at a particular point in time. To the extent possible, consider giving priority for in-person services to students who did not benefit from remote services or may not be able to participate in remote services. For students with mandates for services at high frequencies, the related service provider, in consultation with families, should consider scheduling some services in person and others remotely.