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Safety

To read the DOE's document on HVAC & ventilation procedures and policies, go to: HVAC Protocols for School Reopening

How is the union determining if a school building is safe to reopen?

The decision on whether to reopen a school building to students will be based on the UFT’s 50-item safety plan, including the availability of masks and face shields, a room-by-room review of ventilation effectiveness, an isolation room and a COVID-19 building response team. Union reps are visiting every school to check that they have these supplies and procedures in place. School buildings or rooms that do not meet safety standards will remain closed.

How much personal protective equipment supplies will schools have on hand to provide to staff members?

The DOE has promised to ensure that schools will always have a 30-day supply of PPE on hand and will replenish those supplies on a daily basis if necessary. If your school lacks appropriate PPE, please report this to your UFT chapter leader as soon as possible.

What happens if my school runs out of personal protective equipment during the school year?

Each school has a COVID-19 building response team. Notify your chapter leader and your Covid-19 building response team leader, and they will inform the custodian. Schools should have a 30-day supply of PPE on hand at all times.

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

Each school and central/field office has a Custodian Engineer or Building Captain, respectively, who will maintain their own health and safety supply inventory of PPE. There will be deliveries to schools and central/field offices as needed. The Custodian Engineer or Building Captain will facilitate health and safety supply requests with DSF. 

For escalations, principals can contact their Boroughwide City Office's Deputy Director of Facilities (DDF), email covidsupplies@schools.nyc.gov  or call 718-349-5555. All of these health and safety supplies are provided free of charge to the school and central/field office. 

Who will be on the COVID-19 building response team (BRT)? If I don’t want to be a BRT member, can I refuse?

A school's COVID-19 building response team will be composed of:

  • BRT Leader
  • Special Needs Coordinator
  • Emergency officer
  • Assembly Point Coordinator
  • Recorder
  • School Nurse
  • Custodian
  • School Safety Agent/Agents

Assigning people to those positions should be a shared decision on a school level.

What will happen if a school does not abide by our agreed-upon safety plan, lacks PPE, does not adhere to social distancing requirements, etc.?

No UFT member or student will be put in harm’s way. The decision on whether to reopen a building to students will be based on the UFT 50-item safety checklist, including social distancing of student desks, the availability of masks and face shields, and a room-by-room review of ventilation effectiveness. School buildings or rooms that do not meet safety standards will remain closed. If a school fails to follow agreed-upon safety protocols once it opens, the chapter leader should immediately report the situation to their district rep for prompt action.

What if a school doesn't pass the ventilation test? Will those schools go remote? What if certain classrooms in a building are not properly ventilated?

If a school does not pass the ventilation test, staff would not report to that building on Sept. 8 and would be expected to work remotely. If certain rooms in a school do not pass the ventilation test, those rooms will be off-limits to staff and students.

What happens if our school does not have a school nurse?

If there is no nurse, your school should remain remote. Having a school nurse is on our 50-point safety plan.

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.

Twenty-two schools in 10 buildings remained fully remote for the week of Sept. 8 because they had ventilation issues that made it unsafe for staff to report on site. If you are not satisfied with your own school building, call the UFT at (212) 331-6611.

My school building does not have an HVAC system, but we do have windows that open. What steps are being taken to ensure we will have proper ventilation?

Buildings that have operable windows and exhaust fans comply with ventilation requirements. For buildings with operable windows, we suggest that the windows remain open approximately 3 inches. This will provide enough outside air to dilute the virus. If your building also has air conditioning units, they may remain on if there are windows to open in the classroom as well. Custodial staff will operate all exhaust systems two hours prior to building occupancy and one hour after building occupancy.

The windows in my school building/classroom do not open. What procedures will the DOE be following to make sure our HVAC system is working well to provide adequate ventilation?

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. This 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 HVAC equipment and the areas/rooms supported by these systems have been inspected by custodian engineers and will continue to be inspected daily to ensure proper operation. Custodial staff will operate all applicable HVAC equipment and ventilate buildings two hours prior to building occupancy and one hour after building occupancy.

How do we get access to and distribute the PPE at my school?

We all have the right to access PPE at any time it is needed. Schools should have a 30 day supply of face masks/shields, hand sanitizer, and cleaning supplies. A process needs to be in place for staff to access the supplies they need on demand. You cannot be denied PPE, but there is a need for keeping it sanitary and to keep people from taking more than they need, so the process for distribution needs to be clearly defined within a school. The BRT teams should create and enforce a policy for PPE distribution. Any issues should be brought to your chapter leader.

Examples of school policies could include the following:

  • A request can be made to admin and a custodian can bring the requested supplies to your room in a timely manner.
  • A supply of masks or shields is kept at the entrances and given to people who request it at entry from a security guard or checkpoint staff member.
  • A request for a specific number of items which would make up a week’s supply is submitted and that supply is delivered to your room in a timely manner.

My school appears dirty. What do I do?

Staff should be made aware of what cleaning procedures are occurring in the school and with what regularity. Dirty classrooms should not be tolerated and a procedure needs to be in place for reporting those conditions and having them remedied in a timely manner. The BRT should create a plan for how the school will handle cleaning issues. For example the principal is told of an issue and the custodians are sent to fix the situation right away.

It is important to note that rooms may have been cleaned with an electrostatic cleaner which will sanitize all surfaces but not actually “clean” as in remove surface stains etc. If surface dirt is evident even if it has been disinfected, supplies should still be given or a custodian dispatched to remove stains and other physical dirt as many teachers were not able to purchase wipes or other cleaning supplies due to shortages.

Report issues to chapter leaders and document them with pictures. UFT members may also document and submit photos of their school's lack of cleanliness by using the form found at the following link: www.uft.org/unsafe.

My school building was designated as a REC Center this spring and summer. The school has not been cleaned and it feels unsafe returning to the building. 

A protocol was set on 3/16/20 where custodian engineers were instructed by the Division of School Facilities-DSF that they must perform the enhanced disinfecting protocol for all exposed surfaces in their assigned REC buildings every Monday, Wednesday and Friday evening, utilizing an approved antiviral disinfecting, cleaning product.

What chemical(s) are being used in sprayers for disinfecting schools? Could they potentially cause a health issue?

The DOE will be using Purtab from Evaclean in their electrostatic sprayer. They will also be using Green Kleen. These products are on the EPA’s list of approved SARS-CoV 2 disinfectants. 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 but it is caustic, similar to bleach. However, it is marketed as less caustic when dissolved in water and a safer alternative to bleach. As a reminder, the DOE should not be disinfecting with this product while the building is occupied.

What is the quarantine protocol for traveling or if you reside outside New York State? 

New York State requires all travelers coming from states with significant rates of transmission of COVID-19 to quarantine for a 14-day period from the time of their last contact. At this time, neighboring states such as New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania are not on the list of restricted states. However the U.S. Department of Homeland Security classified teachers as essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic, so exceptions for essential workers apply. These exceptions to the travel advisory are limited based on the duration of time in designated states, as well as the intended duration of time in New York.

Essential workers should seek diagnostic testing for COVID-19 as soon as possible upon arrival in New York (within 24 hours) to ensure they are not positive. Essential workers should monitor temperature and signs of symptoms, wear a face covering when in public, maintain social distancing, and clean and disinfect workspaces for a minimum of 14 days. Essential workers, to the extent possible, are required to avoid extended periods in public, contact with strangers, and large congregate settings for a period of, at least, 14 days. Read more about exemptions for essential workers at the New York State website