An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That’s why the UFT demands that the Department of Education take safety seriously. Under the DOE-UFT contract, every school must have a safety committee and a safety plan created by that committee. As part of the 2018 contract, UFT-represented members have a new mechanism to report safety violations and resolve safety issues, and the DOE issued new systemwide standards for safety that incorporate existing rules and regulations.
The role of the safety committee
Both DOE-UFT contract Article 10B and Chancellor’s Regulation A-414 require the principal of every school to establish a safety committee.
This safety committee, which includes the UFT chapter leader, must meet at least once a month and the chapter leader must be provided coverage to attend. The committee is responsible for developing a comprehensive safety plan and then updating and signing off on it annually. Within two days of each safety committee meeting, minutes of the meeting should be distributed to all staff.
If there is a safety issue at your school that needs to be addressed — e.g., students who congregate in stairwells or areas of the school without adequate patrol by school safety agents — you have the right to bring it to the attention of your chapter leader for discussion at the next safety meeting or resolution through the newly negotiated process for addressing workplace issues.
In addition, safety training should be scheduled and schools should practice soft lockdown, shelter-in, fire and evacuation drills.
School safety plans
The school safety plan includes a detailed blueprint of procedures designed to keep schools safe during normal school operations and in an emergency. It should include such things as the chain of command, where school safety agents are normally posted, visitor screening procedures, how to report an intruder, how to respond if a door alarm goes off, how to cover lunchrooms if staff on duty are absent, and provisions for security before school, while classes are in session and during after-school programs.
A principal must provide a copy of the staff version of the safety plan upon request from a staff member.
Enforcing safety issues at your school
In the first step of the new dispute resolution process, which applies to all UFT-represented employees, chapter leaders should try to resolve the issue with their principal or supervisor through one-on-one conversations, email notification to the principal or supervisor, or the consultation committee.
In the same manner in which operational and paperwork issues can be addressed, the principal has five days to resolve the safety issue. If the issue has not been resolved in that time, it may be escalated to the borough-based safety committee, which has an equal number of members appointed by the chancellor and by the UFT president. If it is not resolved at the borough level, the central committee will review the complaint. At that point, the UFT can take any unresolved safety issues to the UFT president and the schools chancellor, or their designees.
The UFT is ready to assist any chapter that needs help addressing a safety problem. Each UFT borough office has a Victim Support Program liaison/safety specialist who supports chapters by speaking at chapter meetings, conducting building safety walks, providing resources such as a safety plan checklist and assistance with resolving violations of the safety standards.
The school safety specialist can also arrange for a UFT safety inspection to help your school identify areas of vulnerability and suggest solutions.
For more information, visit the school safety section of the UFT website.