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UFT Testimony

Testimony on remote learning failures in New York City public schools

UFT Testimony

Testimony of Michael Mulgrew, UFT President, submitted before the New York City Council Education Committee 

My name is Michael Mulgrew, and I am the president of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). On behalf of the union’s more than 190,000 members, I want to thank the New York City Council’s Education Committee, especially Education Chair Rita Joseph, for holding today’s public hearing on the failure of New York City to plan for and properly execute a pivot to remote instruction on Feb. 13, 2024. 

That day's debacle cannot happen again. Let's review what happened. 

Educators were ready with their virtual classrooms launched and lessons prepped. Parents, grandparents and caregivers took time that day to help their young children log on. Students showed up for class. Who wasn't ready? The New York City Department of Education. 

And so when roughly 1 million students and adults attempted to log on within an hour window, the system collapsed. It was the virtual equivalent of children and educators showing up at a physical school building only to find the doors locked, the lights off and no information about where to go or what to do. 

The DOE and its vendor, IBM, did eventually manage to stabilize the system. By 12:30 p.m. that afternoon, 970,000 teachers and students had logged into their classrooms. It was a testament to the relationships between educators, their students and the city's parents that education continued. 

  • At PS/MS 124 in Ozone Park, 6th graders continued their research for their project on Egyptian gods. 
  • At MS/HS 223 in the South Bronx, students were able to log into remote classrooms because the school kept its own email accounts as backup to the DOE's. 
  • At the Manhattan Academy of Arts and Languages, high school students showed up for their first-period algebra class and hung in until the system stabilized. 
  • At PS 136 in St. Albans, all 30 5th-grade students in an ICT class — a class that blends special needs and gen ed students — came for a full day that included a morning read-aloud and discussion of "Sofia Valdez for President," math exploration, and kudos at the end for all their hard work. 

The DOE and IBM will likely spend today's hearing subtly — or not so subtly — blaming each other for the collapse. Our job, and yours, is to get them to move past the blame game and to create a better process for the nation's largest school system to pivot quickly and effectively to a day of remote instruction. 

We have the following general recommendations for what the DOE must do throughout the year to ensure that remote learning runs smoothly when it is needed: 


  • Streamline communication among the DOE, schools and parents to ensure families have up-to-date information on remote learning procedures. 
  • Provide clear, concise and accessible instructions on accessing technology platforms and participatory guidelines.

Internet Access (this should be done quarterly throughout the school year) 

  • Ensure schools have sufficient internet-enabled devices available for checkout in case of unexpected school closures. 
  • Provide families with guidance on accessing free or low-cost internet for eligible students. 

Equity and Access 

  • Minimize the digital divide by offering a variety of learning materials and technology options that cater to students' different needs and preferences (including for the students in shelters). 
  • Identify and support students who cannot access remote learning through digital technology. 

Remote Instruction Plan 

  • Update the existing Emergency Remote Instruction Plan, which must include methods for ensuring devices, internet access, special education and related services for students with disabilities and preschool students with disabilities. 
  • Clearly define expectations for staff regarding the balance of synchronous and asynchronous instruction during remote learning days. 

Supporting Teachers and Staff 

  • Ensure teachers have adequate time for Other Professional Work (OPW) and parent engagement activities per their contract where appropriate. 

In addition, we recommend that the district enact the following policies to avoid any future repeats of this recent meltdown:

 Remote Pivot Policies: 

  • Make the decision to go remote as early as possible to give families and school communities the maximum amount of time to prepare. 
  • Immediately create and share a crisis remote learning management plan so that all stakeholders, including school staff, families and outside vendors, know what the process is when technical difficulties make it impossible to use the system as intended on a remote learning day. 
  • Run at least one true stress test of the system before a remote day is needed, including a full simulation of what would happen when all students and staff simultaneously log in and access the resources available. 
  • Expand the external capacity of the DOE to address technical difficulties and provide support without extensive reliance on external consultants. 
  • Ensure that when external consultants or companies are used, they are included in any stress tests or other technical checks of the system and that their contracts hold them fully accountable for any failures of service. 

We will continue to need the ability to pivot to remote instruction for short periods because New York City will continue to be buffeted by snowstorms, flash flooding and the smoke of Canadian wildfires, to name a few recent emergencies. In addition, the New York City school calendar now recognizes some 18 religious, civic and cultural holidays. The calendar no longer has room for students to be off for "snow days" if we are to meet the state's requirements of 180 school days and not have students in class into July. 

We need the flexibility of short-term remote instruction for emergencies. It is the DOE's responsibility to make the transition as seamless as possible.