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Q&A on the Issues

School Year 2020–21

New York Teacher

As UFT members continue to navigate this extraordinary school year, the following Q&A answers some of the most-asked questions about safety, testing and tracing, remote work and student support. Negotiations between the UFT and the DOE are ongoing, so new guidance is released all the time. Check the UFT FAQ for the latest updates and information.


Who monitors the amount of personal protective equipment in each school building and how do schools obtain more supplies as needed?

The school custodian will maintain the school’s supply of personal protective equipment. The DOE will deliver more supplies to schools as needed. All of these health and safety supplies are provided free of charge to the school. If you need personal protective equipment, speak to your chapter leader or the head of your COVID-19 building response team.

What chemicals are being used in sprayers for disinfecting schools? Could they cause a health issue?

The DOE is using Purtab from Evaclean in its electrostatic sprayer. It will also be using Green Kleen. These products are on the EPA’s list of approved disinfectants for COVID-19. The active ingredient is sodium dichloroisocyanurate (NaDCC). It is a source of free chlorine when disinfecting and, as such, works the same as bleach. It is not a known carcinogen. Like bleach, it is caustic, but is marketed as less caustic when dissolved in water and a safer alternative to bleach. Cleaners should not be disinfecting with this product while the school building is occupied.

Testing and tracing

Male and female teachers wearing face shields with hand on back of student

Teacher Mario Gamez (right) welcomes a student to his first day of class at PS 188, the Bronx, as speech teacher Judith Wynter looks on.

What happens if I receive a “red light” result from the new DOE Health Screening app?

All DOE staff, visitors and families seeking to enter a DOE building must complete a health screening before entering. This health screening must be completed on each day of arrival, and results will reset daily at midnight. Upon entering the building, you will be asked to provide the results of your screening either by showing your phone or a printout of the results. If an individual answers one or more of the health screening questions on the app that causes a red icon and text, that person may not enter the building. Instead, they should save the screenshot with their results and go home.

If I am selected for random testing at my school, can I have the test done with my private doctor instead? Can a student selected for random testing have it done by a private doctor?

No, those tests will not count as a part of the random testing program. If you are selected as part of the random sample at your school, you must take the test at school. The test is the less intrusive “short swab” that only goes in the front of the nose.

How can I see COVID-19 testing data related to my school?

The New York State Department of Health has created a COVID-19 Report Card for every school district in the state. The site tracks positive cases of students and staff by school and district and is updated every 24 hours. To access this information, and click on “Public Schools” to enter your school or district.

Are COVID-19 test results confidential?

Test results are confidential. If you test positive, you’ll receive a call from a tracer from the NYC Test & Trace Corps who will:

  • Determine if you need more medical attention.
  • Help you arrange to isolate at home or at a free hotel.
  • Create a list of everyone you have had contact with since shortly before the onset of symptoms.

The information the NYC Test & Trace Corps receives through contact tracing is confidential and protected under the New York City Health Code.

Instructional issues

Teacher with thermometer stands outside of school with student

Teacher Dawn Knecht takes a student’s temperature outside PS 81 in the Longwood section of the Bronx on the first day of classes there.

What is the difference between live instruction and live streaming?

Live instruction (or synchronous instruction) for remote teachers can be defined as live interaction between the teacher and students at a scheduled time at the discretion of the teacher via platforms such as Zoom or Google Meet. Live streaming, on the other hand, refers to an in-person teacher, teaching in-person students, who broadcasts their classroom instruction to remote students at the same time they are teaching the in-person students. Teachers can live stream if they want to, but they cannot be mandated to by any supervisor and the requirement to live stream cannot be included in any SBO. Remote teachers are required to incorporate some live instruction each day.

In rare circumstances, remote teachers can be asked to teach remotely to in-person students. While this is not ideal, it may be the only option if, for example, the school has only one physics teacher and that teacher has a medical accommodation.

What parts of the DOE-UFT blended learning agreements can be changed through the SBO process?

In addition to standard contractual provisions (such as start/end times and parent-teacher conferences), the following items in the blended learning agreements are among those that can be changed via SBO: instructional coordination, preparation periods, office hours, instructional lunch, work day, class size, teacher programs and instructional modalities (blended in-person, blended remote and fully remote). Schools cannot, among other things, change the length of the students’ instructional day.

When will faculty and grade/department conferences take place this school year?

Schools will have one faculty and one grade/department conference each month between October and May. 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 these two monthly conferences, principals may assign teachers to administrative duties or professional learning.


Can UFT-represented employees without on-site duties work remotely?

Staff members may work remotely if their assigned duties can be performed remotely, they do not have any responsibility for any students in the building, and they are not otherwise needed on-site, as determined by their supervisor.

Principals may require up to 20% of the staff working remotely (not including those with medical accommodations) to remain or report on site for coverages, required in-person meetings and the fulfillment of in-person IEP mandates. That 20% should be made up of staff who would prefer to perform their remote responsibilities from the school building. If not enough people want to work from the school building, in-person assignments for remote staff should be equally distributed.

Staff members who are remote can be notified by their supervisor to report to work in-person with reasonable notice. Notice should be given during the workday preceding the day they are required to work in person.

What are the rules regarding assigning fully remote programs to teachers?

Teachers with approved medical accommodations must be assigned to remote teaching programs. In some cases, schools may have more fully remote programs for teachers than they have teachers on approved medical accommodations. In these cases, principals should give priority to teachers who are documented primary caregivers of a family member who they live with and who is at higher risk for complications from COVID-19. Teachers may submit proof of their eligibility for consideration for a remote teaching assignment using the Self-Service Online Leave Application System (SOLAS). The DOE will review the documentation to determine if the teacher meets the criteria. If the teacher is determined to be eligible, the DOE will notify both the teacher and the principal.

This provision only mandates placement “to the extent possible.” There may be reasons placement isn’t possible, including that there is no available fully remote program or the teacher does not have the appropriate credentials for the available program.

Principals should make every effort to assign teachers to a program that is exclusively of one type (in-person or fully remote or blended remote). In the limited instances where a teacher has a partial program of one type, the balance of the teacher’s program may be of another type. This requirement may be modified through the school-based option process.

Can per-session activities be done remotely?

Yes, per-session can be done remotely, and retention rights will be protected.

Can a per-session posting indicate that the activity takes place in person?

Yes. Certain tasks (such as bus duty, in-person tutoring, study groups) may only be able to be performed in-person.

What happens if a remote teacher holds retention rights to a position that can only be done in-person?

If a retention rights holder is unable to perform a per-session activity due to a medical accommodation, that employee will not lose retention rights.


Chapter leader, parent and student

Jessica Baity (right), the chapter leader at PS 329 in East Elmhurst, Queens, welcomes 2nd-grader Dylan to a Sept. 26 supplies giveaway event as his mom, Maria Guaman, looks on.

My school doesn’t have shared curriculum for the subject I teach. Are there resources to help me plan and prevent learning gaps for my students?

Under the DOE-UFT contract, teachers must be provided a curriculum in the core content areas. For the 2020-21 school year, DOE guidance specifies that those curricula must be digitally accessible. If this is not the case, speak to your chapter leader about filing an operational issues report. In the meantime, to support teachers in designing consistent, coherent instruction, the UFT, the principals’ union and the DOE collaborated to identify priority learning standards in ELA and math and to create learning maps for grades K–12 in the core content areas. You can find these resources in the remote teaching section of the UFT website.

My students began the school year with unfinished learning. How can I be expected to teach my regular curriculum?

Anticipating this challenge, the UFT, the principals’ union and the DOE have identified priority learning standards for this year. While all New York State standards are important, the priority standards documents highlight essential learning for each grade span in ELA and math. You can use these to help gauge skills and knowledge students will need to build by the end of the year. You can find the priority learning standards remote teaching.

What professional learning is available on blended and remote instruction?

LearnUFT and the UFT Teacher Center are both offering virtual professional learning sessions open to educators citywide throughout the school year. Many of these workshops are free, and educators can earn CTLE hours.

Schools with UFT Teacher Center sites will have school-based professional learning available to them throughout the year, including opportunities to earn CTLE hours for some activities.

The city Department of Education and Share My Lesson website from the American Federation of Teachers both have a range of taped webinars and other professional learning resources available to NYC educators.

Educators should relay their professional learning needs to their chapter leader or school-based staff development committee.

Students with disabilities

Can an in-person special education teacher be assigned to teach remote-only students or blended students on remote days?

Yes, the in-person special education teacher can be assigned to teach students working remotely should their schedule allow. For example, a special education teacher who is programmed to teach two periods each day of blended in-person integrated co-teaching may be scheduled to provide three periods of direct services (such as SETSS and special class) to either a blended remote class or fully remote class, or a combination of both. This is true for all special-education assignments, including integrated co-teaching classes.

What are the caseload limits for blended-remote special education teachers?

To allow for teaching blended-remote cohorts on different days, blended-remote special education teachers can teach double their typical caseload. For example, a blended-remote special education teacher can be assigned to one 12:1:1 class and one 8:1:1 class or two 12:1:1 classes. Likewise, an ICT teacher can have double their typical caseload as long as they are not teaching more than 12 students with IEPs at any given time and the ratio of 40% special education and 60% general education students is maintained.


Are all paraprofessionals permitted to work remotely 30 minutes per day?

Yes, while schools are operating in the blended learning model, paraprofessionals will not be required to stay in the building longer than six hours and 20 minutes. However, whether that remote half hour is scheduled at the beginning or end of the day is still at the discretion of the principal. In-person paraprofessionals may be able to work remotely for more than 30 minutes out of their day if their duties can be performed remotely and they have no responsibility for any students in the building.

What tasks can be assigned to paraprofessionals during the 30-minute remote work time?

Paraprofessionals are expected to continue to support their assigned students and colleagues, and perform related tasks. Some examples of remote duties include:

  • Communicating with students and families.
  • Participating in remote PD, faculty or departmental meetings.
  • Supporting teachers with data collection and progress monitoring of remote students.

Have there been any changes to the duties that may be assigned to paraprofessionals?

Yes, during the blended-learning period, paraprofessionals may be assigned the following tasks when they are not working directly with a specific student or class:

  • Assist with arrival and/or dismissal including busing.
  • Assist with health screening upon entry.
  • Provide student and parent outreach.
  • Provide other administrative duties, including but not limited to hall duty, cafeteria duty and attendance processing.