We are heading into another really tough school year. We thought in June that we would be in a better place by fall but now we are dealing with the surge of the delta variant. And once again, the mayor waited until the last minute to make major policy decisions on the vaccine mandate, remote instruction and safety protocols.
But we will surmount these challenges — and emerge stronger than ever — because as educators, we are there for our students and for each other. When we stand together and take care of each other, we can rise above and surmount even the biggest obstacles.
Our COVID-19 building response teams in every school were the key to keeping our school buildings safe last school year. They made sure building safety protocols were followed and they quickly alerted the union if there were any issues. In the first week of September, the UFT has trained the Building Response Team leader in 1,100 school buildings, which puts us ahead of where we were last school year at this time.
The health and safety plan for the 2021–22 school year builds on the strategies we used successfully last school year to keep our school communities safe. The challenge is great because we are going from about 300,000 students receiving in-person learning to 900,000 to 1 million students.
Ventilation is a big piece. The DOE has agreed with us that schools need to turn up the air exchange system in all the buildings, especially in the cafeterias. Large air purifiers will go into all cafeterias, too. If you are concerned that your classroom is not ventilated properly, please notify your school’s Building Response Team. It can do an analysis of your room’s capacity and ask for a carbon dioxide reading of your room. We have equipped 100 union staff members with commercial-grade carbon dioxide monitors.
The DOE is following the CDC recommendation to maintain at least 3 feet between students within classrooms. We all know that there are severely overcrowded schools where it will be impossible to maintain 3 feet. We demanded that the DOE have a plan for these schools. As a result, it has found additional rental space for some of these schools and other remedies.
We want everyone to be vaccinated because that is the best way to keep our school communities safe. We can have different opinions on vaccination, but we are all in this together. The union movement has never faced a vaccine mandate before. What precedent will it set and how will it affect us as workers in the future? What part of the vaccine mandate may be legal and where is the mayor overstepping?
I wanted to start impact bargaining with the city immediately because I needed to know its positions and where the city would try to overstep. As this newspaper went to press on Sept. 2, we are headed into mediation with an independent arbitrator appointed by the state labor board because the city is being unreasonable at the bargaining table.
Remember your union is always here for you. What you’ve accomplished for your students during this pandemic is a testament to your courage and commitment. I’m proud to represent you as we take on the new challenges together.