Friday, July 24, 2020

The 'HEROES' Act will Prevent Us From Suing

With state and local governments facing a financial crisis stemming from the pandemic, all eyes are on Washington in hopes that the Senate (back in session this week from a vacation) can agree on a rescue package.

The "HEROES" Act (which is actually just House's version of the bill) is celebrated as our only chance to avoid massive layoffs and drastic budget cuts. In addition to the possibility of expanded Unemployment Insurance, the bill promises federal aid to state governments and to school districts as well as help with the upscale of testing. 

The Republicans are divided over some key issues: Some want no UI. Others want no special aid going to states and still others want no flexibility of current aid used by states. 

One of the few things they all agree on? Liability Protections

Senate Republicans are proposing robust legal protections for U.S. universities, schools and businesses across the country in order to reopen without the threat of COVID-related lawsuits looming overhead, according to a portion of the draft summary of the forthcoming coronavirus relief package obtained by CBS News. 
The summary, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, includes a laundry list of legal liability protections which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has emphasized as his red line to any future COVID-19 relief support. Included in the list are temporary protection from the trial bar for schools, colleges, charities and business that follow public health guidelines and for frontline medical workers. 
"So that people who acted in good faith during this crisis, are not confronted with a second epidemic of lawsuits in the wake of the pandemic that we're already struggling with," McConnell said this week at a Louisville, Kentucky press conference. 

Democrats agree too. So,  if the rescue package succeeds, no one will be able to to sue the NYCDoE of the City of New York for exposing us to COVID. I think we all know the NYCDOE well. They'll send an email and go over procedures with school staff but when it comes to actually following CDC guidelines on a day to day basis, they'll just let their school-based staff ignore as many rules as they want and will enforce only what manages to make it into the newspapers.

In February and March, so many school-based staff were exposed to the virus that the City of New York refused to release the number. The DOE was the only city department to not offer a full account of how many people may had become sick during this time (they still refuse to release the numbers to date and the UFT isn't pushing them to do so). So, because of city and DOE negligence last the Spring, more than 70 education employees died of COVID and a literal countless amount became sick. Now, for the Fall, they will have further protection from being sued if (or when) they repeated the same negligence.

They're going to repeat the same negligence. We all know this. The  DOE and NYC in general have been famous for providing almost no leadership in preparation for the Fall. So relieving them from the burden of even having to appear in court from a parent or employee suite will spell an absolute disaster for employees and parents alike.

Hi I'm doenuts. I'm an employee.  I'm also a parent.

But if you trust the New York City Department of Education to keep you safe, without an option to sue in the event that they get you sick, then I have a perfectly good bridge to sell you.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

You Can't Spitball Teaching

At some point, we are going to have to turn our attention to preparing to do what we actually get paid to do. The crescendo of voices asserting that we should only find ways to not go back may be needed but are also preventing this required turn of our attention and this is compounding the problem.

You can't spend all of this time working to convince people to not go back and then spitball teaching.

Like everyone else, I have mixed feelings about going back (I am very concerned about my health and on the other hand, I really want my life back!!). I'm angry at reporters, like the ones from the New York Times and Chalkbeat, who pretend that the data pointing to children spreading the disease doesn't exist. This is a pathetic attempt to make teachers look like they are selfish.

But it also an effective one.  A typical reader will scan the news these days and read that children do not spread the disease. This is untrue but it is repeated by the likes of the New York Times and New York Post and Chalkbeat on a routine basis. That same reader will then check their social media and find it filled with teachers launching into discussions only about how they do not want to go back. That reader will conclude that two plus two makes four; that teachers are bitching and complaining over nothing. This narrative has become destructive. And our participation in it in the manner makes us complicit. Each public attempt to figure out new ways to "not go back" chips away at our credibility as educators and increases the destruction of this narrative.

We need that credibility! The responsible voices among us have already begun to understand this and have adjusted their voices accordingly. The rest of folks need to adjust as well.  The consequence of not doing so will eventually be that no one of importance will feel the slightest need to listen to teachers when it comes to the safety of students.

To be clear these voices asserting only that we should not go back are all correct. If broadway will not open until January 3,  I see no need to risk the health of children and their families.  Frankly, I am glad some of these voices are out there at least some of the time. We need public voices correcting the out-right lies about the virus in the press, while at the same time balancing, in the most responsible of ways, the concerns of those they see around them. But those voices must exist along side the myriad of educator voices who also recognize the basic need to begin planning for it. Those discussions must exist alongside one another.

Last week, I noticed New York's most famous teacher-writer, Arthur Goldstein, have a public discussion with another famous teacher-turned school leader. "The mayor's plan .. is ridiculous" asserted Arthur Goldstein. "With careful planning, we could have [at least] a good hybrid learning plan in place" responded the teacher-turned school leader. "I'm sorry to disagree" responded Arthur Goldstein. The discussion went on and on in this manner. This is how I would I expect two educators -each representing the highest of professionalism and ideals- to engage in a discussion about this issue. It's how we all expect educators to communicate.

Some of the city's other teacher voices -folks who seem to have basic training in organizing tactics- have taken it upon themselves to use approaches more akin to salting in order to convince other teachers that it is just too dangerous to even consider anything but not returning. I've written how this is irresponsible and defies the very nature of our jobs as educators.

These people seize upon some of the same arguments that other, more legitimate, critical voices use. "The timing is too dangerous". "The plan is too ridiculously poor". "The leaders are terrible". (Again, all true).   But what separates this lot from the more respected voices is their  singular focus on encouraging others to not discuss opening schools.

These other voices embrace fear-mongering. They insist that there is simply no other discussion that can possibly be had. And these folks are using the same techniques that salesmen or union organizers use. They place themselves at the center of every discussion. They applaud new voices expressing concern. They redirect the conversations away from anything not related to the parameters that they themselves would prefer.  They incite. And then play the victim. And, yes, they ridicule any voice that does not agree with what they are selling. This is almost exactly like salting. And, while I'm not surprised to see it, I am surprised to see it used to exploit people's fears during a very dangerous time.

Again the presence of critical voices should be as welcoming as the presence of dissuading voices are disconcerting. This mayor, more than any other, responds to public pressure. And this plan to reopen must, at least, be shared so that teachers and support staff can begin planning. But, as I've written before, the insistence that we discuss only the risks around reopening -to the exclusion of everything else- will hurt students the most (as well as our own credibility and reputations as educators).

It is the collection of these other voices that will, ultimately, lead to a very high price. Parents and others are already expressing suspicions around teachers expressing concerns. They (almost rightly) see an agenda at play -to not return no matter what. And damn if they resent it.

When a former New York Times columnist recently suggested that teachers who are scared to return should "quit", the Twittersphere went wild with comments of praise for the sentiment -and comments of disgust for teachers. Much of this disgust has come from the absence of discussions around planning and preparing. These voices are, in fact, placing all teachers into a corner from which we may not come out.

And again, the harm is not in the commission of these discussions but in the omission of other discussions or actions that eventually must, by sheer necessity of the challenges we face, take place as well.  These other voices aren't just allowing teachers to ignore making actual preparations. They are actively dissuading teachers from devoting almost any public thought at all to preparing at all.

This is only the practical aspect behind the (simple) assertion that, at some point, we are going to have to turn our attention to preparing to do what we actually get paid to do.

In my last post, I asked whether we want cops patrolling the protests who had not been trained in latest policing techniques or doctors and nurses working in our hospitals who had not been trained in the latest techniques to fight COVID-19? These other voices who are out there today seem keen on one thing and one thing only: NOT giving you a moment to even think about being prepared for what happens in September. Rest assured, when September comes, these voices will have all but vanished leaving only you and your class of students and a whole lot of unaddressed questions.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Wow. It's Just Like the Athenian Plague

As the disaster passed all bounds, men, not knowing what was to become of them, became utterly careless of everything, whether sacred or profane. 

— Thucydides

I've read through the many articles and tweets from reporters, politicians and teachers alike about reopening schools in the Fall here in New York City. As the nation-wide discussion about reopening heats up, we are all being drowned in an almost binary discussion: "Is is safe to open?"

You can see this question materialize in many different ways. Some people ask "How is it safe to open?". Others ask "Can the NYCDOE make it safe to open" or "Can they keep them open?". Other folks point to any one of the many necessary effects of opening. They will point to childcare as being an essential issue around opening safely (I.E. with students attending only two to three days per week) or feel impelled to discuss the painful logistics around opening safely or ask whether they, as teachers, qualify for a medical accommodation. (One teacher, famous for defending teachers and convinced that there is no safe way to open given the circumstances, has told his colleagues that he would put in for a medical accommodation if he had a hangnail if he thought it would qualify him for it.)

These side discussions are gripping and are interesting to follow but they are all related to the one and only over-riding question that is being asked: Is it safe to open?

There is another issue -long ignored by people who devote copious amounts of time and energy to any form of media discourse. This question is just as urgent and as important as this issue of safety and the people who are discussing safety are performing linguistic feats of amazement in order to avoid discussing it.

These folks -the ones who continue to ignore this other issue-  treat it as a mere secondary matter (trivial to their own concerns around safety).  According to the track record of these folks, this other issue is worth addressing only because someone has forced them to address it.  The mayor says schools "..will have enough time prepare" and then moves on. The governor says we will ".. will have time to thoughtfully plan" and then changes the subject. The school's chancellor shifts into uniquely long winded platitudes and then, only after being pressured, provides a link. Concerned teachers -mistrustful that the city got many of us got sick during March (so many, in fact, that the city still refuses to release the data or give a full account) want their questions around safety answered -and don't trust those "damned idiots from Tweed" to address this other issue anyway.

Taken together, these folks are all slowly -but clearly- becoming just as anti-teaching as anyone from the Bloomberg days ever were.

And those folks dont just include city-wide political leaders and teachers. They include the press,  including leading reporters from the New York Times and community-driven reporting websites like Chalkbeat. They include building and district educational leaders and even many teachers.

That other issue is this: What, exactly, do you expect us to accomplish with this time when we go back?

This time we spend with children in the Fall can  be a true moment in our history where we repair damage and set the tone for the next page in this chapter. With careful planning we can set our children back on the right path toward a happy fulfilled and well-prepared life as adults, making this time in their childhood just blip.

Or we could f*ck it all up and turn it into a complete waste of everybody's time.

To the folks who don't really care about this issue (or aren't prepared, because of incompetnce, to raise it), I have a few questions. Do you expect us to teach along the curriculum as though students have not suffered enormous emotional damage from the Spring's pandemic? Did you expect us to engage in Trauma-Informed-Teaching, pretending, whenever you open your mouths, that teachers know how to do this?Did you expect us to take another three-day training on hybrid learning in our respective school buildings? Did you want us to click a link and then "PRESTO" thorough magic, it happens?

Or do you expect this challenge around planning for hybrid learning will simply vanish in the turmoil that is bound to occur in six weeks and then expect the classroom teacher -professionally alone in these very public discussions- to just work it all out on their own?

This last possibility is probably what these people hope for and is very probably what they will get. But it doesn't make them any less culpable for the damage that is about to caused to children throughout the city. That damage will be caused because these folks -on all levels- failed to carefully plan and prepare teachers for the extreme challenges we are all about to face in our classrooms under the hybrid model.

I blame them. And I will go on blaming them as this other disaster -the one that will have occured because they failed to prepare (or failed to advocate for the preparation of) teachers and school communities to thoughtfully plan for hybrid learning this Fall.

Would we want cops patrolling the protests who had not been trained in latest policing techniques? Would we want doctors and nurses working in our hospitals who had not been trained in the latest techniques to fight COVID-19? Would we want EMT workers and firefighters who had been prepared for the tasks they face?

Then why is it somehow OK to not prepare teachers?

Why is acceptable to not A) Thoughtfully plan for a brand new hybrid model and B) Be prepared to address at least some of the extreme Social-Emotional challenges students are facing (to the precise extent that state Board of Regents has required school districts to do)? Why is that OK? Is it because safety? Because the mayor sucks? Because the governor hasn't said so?

The answers I hear to these questions would add up if we weren't teachers. We are, however, teachers andso the answers do not add up.

It is a very rare moment indeed where the press and politicians, the most damaging incompetent education leaders as well as the most vocal unionists and pedagogues are all united in the same cause: Not preparing school staff for school. Yet this is exactly what has happened. Virtually every education stakeholder in New York City has allowed April and May and June, and now July, to drift on by as though the challenges we are about to face do not exist and should not be addressed. This -presenting ourselves useless and unprepared in front of children who are in dire need- is what has become of us.

It was Rumi who first wrote that "A fish rots from head down". And he was right. Our president, our governor and our mayor have all demonstrated (quite perfectly, if you ask me) that they could care less about the finer points of pedagogy and Social-Emotional Learning. But that rot has now reached the body and it doesn't seem as though there is anything that will stop it from progressing, like a cancerous plague, through the classrooms. This breakdown of work based morality (otherwise known as professional ethics) has separated us all from who we were once were and from what we once did.

Friday, July 3, 2020

That Buyout? Probably Not Gonna Happen

In my last few posts I wrote about a possible piece of legislation that may, actually, make it through the legislature to offer an early retirement incentive for teachers. These buyout ideas are always long shots, but this bill had multiple co sponsors, was introduced in both houses on the same day and had other indications buried in the wording that made it look like a real contender to be signed by the governor.

That was all before New York City finalized and ratified its budget. 

The budget -which was rumored to carry deep cuts to schools- fixed its eyes on the NYPD and on central administration for much of the cuts to education. The only way schools were directly hit were that FSF remained flat instead of growing with inflation and the rise in teachers salaries. That hurts, there is little doubt. But the majority of cuts came from non school based services.

And the mayor indicated he would seek cuts of only $1 Billion from city employees and would work with unions in order to do so. That's steep/ But it is not so Earth shattering as to require a special law allowing employees to retire early. The final analysis of the budget seems to point to a reality that things are bad right now, but the city isn't facing the dire straights many thought it would be facing back in late May.

There are those who say these cuts will be on their way if the HEROES Act isn't passed and if it doesn't offer serious help to New York State's budget. Because of this, so the thinking goes, a buyout may well be on the way anyway. Those folks are half right. We're 1975 level trouble if that bill doesn't provide relief to the state. But, since all indications currently point to that bill making it through the Senate sometime after July 20 (when Congress reconvenes) and including relief for states. So it doesn't look like doomsday is going to happen.

On top of that, the bill I noticed itself provides for a brief 30 day window for employees to file for early retirement According to that bill, that window would open on July 30 and close in August. If that window were to be made, the bill would have to be further along than it is. Checking in A10595, it is still in the Governmental Employees Committee in the Assembly. Its partner, S8599, is still in the Rules Committee in the Senate, The bills were both introduced on June 5th. They haven't' moved out of their committee and have not even begun to be scored in any meaningful way and tomorrow is July 4th. This doesn't leave the kind of time one would think for something to go through the processes and be passed and signed then prepared for employees.

There are folks who may think 'well, they could just change that date. Bills are made from words and words can be edited at any time' and, those folks are right. That could all happen.

It's just that it doesn't look like it will. As bad as it had been, I would like to think government hasn't gotten so bad that they would force a bill like that through with almost no time for people to put in their papers. There would be an outcry from every public employee in the state if not enough notice was provided.

So, the bottom line? It just doesn't look like it's going to happen.

There is still a possibility that all employees may lose 1-2 percent percent of pay through some type of  furlough scheme. A billion dollars in savings (which is what the mayor announced he would be seeking from public employees) from among the roughly 305,700 city employees is about $3,200 per person. For a top earning teacher, that is roughly 2.5% of annual pay. So furloughs, along with some other cost saving measures, may be what plugs the budget hole that is left. Not (probably) a buyout.