The Solidarity caucus of the UFT has survey out asking anyone at any school who experienced difficulty or interference trying to take a covid test at work last week. The survey takes only a minute and they are only trying to collect data and connect with any teacher who felt that getting a test during the Omicron surge was more difficult.
Monday, December 27, 2021
Sunday, December 19, 2021
UFC Announces Candidates For UFT Election
Camille Eterno for president of the UFT!!
And other great candidates for the UFT election.
I know my readers. There are other names that are, well, okay then. But these opposition groups have never, to my recollection, been united to this extent. I like unity. (I like Unity too, but this uncaucus movement is just beginning and I truly like the idea of no ideology or blind loyalty in elections).
Here is the press release (and don't forget to read my last post about the DOE-nut of the week)
December 19, 2021 - Statement regarding the current COVID Surge Emergency, Calls for Action, Demands and Our Candidates For A Better Union
This is a crisis week in the COVID pandemic. NYC is exploding with cases. This week alone cases have tripled in our city. Theater, sports, music venues, and colleges are shutting down, or taking a pause, just as they did in March 2020. And just as the city and mayor lagged behind in 2020, the DOE and UFT leadership is lagging behind in its response now while putting students, teachers and whole communities at significant risk.
Listen to what the data is telling us! Expert epidemiologist, Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research at the University of Minnesota, in reference to our city’s data stated, “I think we’re really just about to experience a viral blizzard.” The CDC is expecting critical spikes in hospitalizations and projects that over 15,000 Amercians will lose their lives to COVID in the week of January 8, 2022. Here in New York, over 21k cases were reported on Friday alone - a record number of cases during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the DOE situation room is falling apart. Testing and tracing at schools is overwhelmed and dysfunctional. Data reporting is inadequate, opaque, and skewed. Now is the time for the UFT to step up to the plate to protect its members and school communities with strong demands for action during this chaotic mayoral transition. It’s not enough to make tepid and vague suggestions for the incoming administration in January. We are in a crisis now and we need action now. Mulgrew’s email of December 17th offers nothing but the same acquiescence to mayoral/DOE policy that exposed so many of us last time. If the DOE is incapable of keeping schools safe we, as educators, must act on behalf of our school communities.
Actions by Teachers and School Communities For This Week and Beyond
We can act now by utilizing the resources, rights and opportunities we already have available to us:
● Follow existing guidance on getting tested when sick or exposed immediately. See the DOE personnel memo here.
● Stay home if you're sick: Be honest on the health screening. If you have COVID symptoms, or symptoms of any illness this week, stay home. Did you know that the CDC includes other symptoms such as a headache or runny nose as COVID symptoms?
● You shouldn't have to use any CAR days if you correctly follow the guidelines and procedures. Remember you are allotted 3 CAR-free days from onset of symptoms to seek a COVID test. The same goes if you actually test positive for COVID (even without symptoms).
● Testing: Rapid tests are great, but rely on a lab-confirmed PCR test also; stay home until you get both results (submit the PCR to your principal as proof of testing).
● Insist on being tested at your school after students are tested. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer from testing and administrators. Testing is our way to maintain safe school communities.
● Reach out to families to let them know the severity of the crisis and what they may want to do to keep their children safe.
● Consider making arrangements with families who feel unsafe this week to post assignments for those keeping their students home. If possible, coordinate posting work with the existing quarantines at the school.
● Be mindful of the social emotional needs of our students and keep their workloads reasonable and manageable. Keep your per session opportunities in mind while posting work for classroom quarantines.
● Consider organizing informational picketing before and after school to highlight our safety needs during this crisis, along with families and allies.
Demands for Safety from DOE
Safety must be the overriding concern during this pandemic. City teachers unions like United Teachers Los Angeles have successfully demanded much more in terms of safeguards than the Unity-led UFT. United for Change demands the following from the DOE:
● Classroom/School/City Closures:
- There is no current threshold for classroom, school or city closures. We need more definitive
thresholds for closures based on the science and specific criteria.
- Since breakthrough cases are now the norm, we should quarantine vaccinated students, teachers, and staff who are exposed - not just unvaccinated students.
- Provide KN95 or fitted N95 masks to all students/staff. Demand that principals actually enforce that they are worn in school settings.
- Strengthen classroom and school closure protocols at least to their maximum 2020-2021 levels. The current standards appear linked more to the question of ‘are there enough teachers or subs to keep the building open’ than what is healthy/safe for our staff, students, and families.
- Fully staff the situation room and ensure notifications and decisions are made in a timely manner. We propose a watchdog group of UFT & parents as oversight in the Situation Room.
- All students and employees must be given baseline testing. We call for students and teachers
to return on January 3rd (through the 5th, if need be) with a negative PCR test.
- Increased access to weekly testing–regardless of vaccination status. Provide all in our school
community with free at-home tests, regularly. Robust testing for all staff and students from
grades 3K, Pre-K and beyond must be available in our city schools without impediments.
- Return testing at least to maximum 2020-2021 levels, and do so for both vaccinated and
unvaccinated persons. Provide those students who don’t consent with a remote learning option.
- Ensure randomized testing so that the same students and staff are not tested over & again.
- Increase access to testing by making neighborhood schools testing sites.
- With temperatures now too low to keep windows open in many schools that rely on them almost
entirely for ventilation, we must improve indoor ventilation, heating, or relocate overcrowded
classrooms to safer environments.
- Add real HEPA filters to classrooms.
- We need access to all CO2 readings in classrooms and common spaces. Readings should be
happening regularly in all buildings and all classrooms.
- Expand UFT-staffed remote options for students with personal or family health issues.
- Given the health risks teachers face and the realities of long COVID, we must increase access to out-of-network healthcare options for first year teachers. And no more healthcare givebacks affecting in-service members and retirees in our upcoming contract.
- End teacher observations for this year, as Los Angeles has done for most teachers. There are reports of teachers being pressured to seat students at an unsafe distance to facilitate pre-pandemic ‘collaborative learning strategies’ in schools with high community spread. Teachers shouldn’t have to choose between their students’ and families’ health and their own professional livelihood.
- Expand CAR-free sick days for teachers who have COVID symptoms or have children of their own who are exhibiting COVID symptoms.
A Better Union, A Responsive Plan
The pandemic is here for the foreseeable future, but our current disconnected UFT leadership doesn’t have to be. United For Change candidates running in the spring 2022 UFT elections offer a better alternative and real, responsive solutions. Here is what they say about the current crisis:
Camille Eterno (ICE), our candidate for UFT President, running against Michael Mulgrew, says, “The current UFT President cannot wait for the new mayor to take office to act. The time to demand a safe teaching and learning environment and inform members of their rights is NOW! Mulgrew is fiddling, just like he did in March of 2020, while COVID is again spreading like wildfire in NYC. We must do better.”
Annie Tan (MORE), for UFT Secretary, states, “Lack of leadership, from Mayor de Blasio and our own union, has led to thousands of cases among students and staff that never needed to happen. Our schools are left with major staff shortages and COVID spread at school, preventable with baseline COVID testing, universal weekly testing and other common-sense safety measures. Educators, students and families deserve leadership that acts decisively on what is happening at schools, including remote learning options; 'normal' was never good enough."
Luli Rodriguez (ICE/Solidarity), candidate for UFT Treasurer: “At The Heritage High School, there are only 11 classrooms for 350 students. Certain classrooms are over-capacity. Current UFT leadership dropped the ball by not successfully pressuring the mayor to lower class sizes. We cannot wait any longer for real enforceable safety measures to be implemented."
Lydia Howrilka (Solidarity), a candidate for UFT Executive Board, representing high school teachers, adds:
“I urge caution and a return to remote instruction for the week of December 19 and 1 week after the New Year. We can't control what people do. But we can take preventative measures.”
Alex Jallot (MORE), a candidate for UFT Executive Board, representing high school teachers: “We are once again finding ourselves in a position where our students, colleagues, and families are at high risk. Cases have been increasing rapidly over the past week and the data suggests those numbers will only go up. We demand that schools be able to go remote for this upcoming week to keep everyone safe. Furthermore, we demand that everyone produce a negative test upon our return after the holiday break. We were told to prepare our classrooms for a remote possibility, and now is the time to utilize that. It is imperative that we act immediately in order to save lives.”
Edward Calamia (New Action) a candidate for UFT Executive Board, representing high school teachers: “The policies coming from Washington, Albany, and DOE Central must be judged based on the experience of the workers and students who enter school buildings every day. We who are on the front lines need something better, we who are on the front lines have accepted the challenge to create something better.”
Nick Bacon (New Action), a candidate for UFT Executive Board, representing high school teachers: “We know all too well the consequences of our union leadership’s failure to act in March 2020. Michael Mulgrew's current pandemic strategy isn’t working. Enough with the empty gestures. The time is now to proactively ensure the safety of teachers, students, and families.”
Daniel Alicea (EONYC), a candidate for UFT Executive Board, representing middle school teachers: “As a dad and educator, we must do right by our families and our kids - keep them safe. Our students from ages 5-11 are not fully vaxxed. Neither are children in 3K and pre-K. We aren’t testing kids in 3K or pre-K and that’s unacceptable. We may need a pause for in-person instruction to avert a catastrophic outbreak. A pause will provide relief to our healthcare workers who are overwhelmed, our school staff shortages and it may, ultimately, save lives."
Our Slate For Adcom Ocers, High School Executive Board and Middle School Executive Board
(Our other candidates for Elementary School Executive Board, Functional, At-Large and AFT/NYSUT are forthcoming in the coming weeks. We will post bios and pictures of our candidates in the coming days and weeks on our website - WWW.UNTEDFORCHANGE.VOTE)
VP for Elementary Schools
VP for Middle School
VP for High School
VP for CTE
VP for Special Education
VP for Education At Large
VP for Non-DOE
High School Executive Board
Candidate / Caucus Affiliation/
Camille Eterno (ICE)
Annie Tan (MORE)
Sally Beane White (Independent)
Luli Rodriguez (UFT Solidarity/ICE)
Rosie Frascella (MORE)
Tameka Solomon (MORE)
Poonita Beemsigne (UFT Solidarity)
Thomas McDonough (New Action)
Eric Severson (UFT Solidarity)
Hannah Fleury (OT/PT)
Gloria Brandman (Retiree Advocate)
Christina Vickers (UFT Solidarity)
Position: Candidate / Caucus Affiliation
High School Executive Board
Ronnie Almonte (MORE)
Middle School Executive Board
Position: Candidate / Caucus Affiliation
Middle School Executive Board
Daniel Alicea (EONYC) Kevin Prosen (MORE) Yvonne Reasen (EONYC) Olivia Swisher (MORE)
Saturday, December 18, 2021
Here is the DOE-nut of the Week
New York City Schools will remain open next week.
A former COVID-19 adviser for President Biden's transition on Thursday warned of a “viral blizzard” that is about to hit the U.S. as COVID-19 cases rise and concerns about the omicron variant continue to fester (The Hill)
|We're all just sort of watching as the storm approaches.|
Despite an absolutely enormous increase in the COVID numbers, the school system in New York City will not shift to remote learning next week.
The plan, developed last summer when everyone thought the numbers would continue to decline, is a reactive one. It provides for classes, or sometimes whole schools, to temporarily close if there is a spike in cases. The assumptions this plan is built upon depend on a process where exposure to the virus continues to decline and to be less harmful to society than it has been in the past. It's a goodbye plan. It's a pre summer, 2021 plan. It does not take into account a variant that is almost entirely resistant to the regular doses of vaccine. There is no plan for a virus for which there is no effective vaccine.
At the same time, the economy of New York City is too fragile to sustain a crisis. Unemployment in New York City was 9 percent in November (USDOL). This is at a time where the national average is only 4.2 percent (USDOL).
As discussed on this blog before (here), there are no moratoriums for renters anymore and the coffers for unemployment insurance have long since been empty from the 2020 crisis. Mothers and fathers of school aged children (who, let's face it, have already born the brunt of burden here), are paying more for everything from groceries to gasoline. If they own a small business, there will be relief program coming from Washington. Parents have gotten all of the help they are going to get -and they know it. They simply cannot afford to miss any more opportunities to make money -and they know it.
To make matters worse, many of them will face a stiffer challenge obtaining credit, because the Federal Reserve will soon be raising interest rates to combat inflation (NPR). If they do not know this now, they will very very soon.
Put simply: There is absolutely no political appetite to do anything that may disrupt what jobs the economy has been able to claw back from the 2020 crisis, period. Closing businesses will cost jobs. But closing schools to go remote will seize the whole economy -and it may not soon recover. Everybody knows this. They just don't want to say it.
That the governments have mostly all failed to get medicines needed to combat the infection to our local pharmacies must also be mentioned here.
Opting instead for "vaccine for all" strategy, the medicines here in New York State are available to the infirm only if one is sick enough to be admitted the hospital. And hospitals in other cities are already so understaffed that many are opening wondering if they have the capacity to handle another huge surge (LATimes: "‘A perfect storm’ for Delta, Omicron could overwhelm hospitals within weeks").
No one had anticipated that vaccine for all strategy to not work. Yet the explosion in COVID cases since Thanksgiving weekend have proven otherwise. The strategy will not keep people from becoming sick. And the voting public is about to see, to whichever degree it is harmful, the results of a strategy that has not contained the virus. I take no political opinion on this topic. I mean only to make the point: The public's trust in their governments have been undermined and that will have real world consequences. If the governments remain open, they will be blamed for high numbers. If the governments shift to remote learning for children, they will be blamed for the economy.
In the face of two opposing yet unappetizing options, the politicians who get elected to government will almost always choose the path of least resistance. The path of least political resistance here is to keep schools open, to rely on the plan the state has approved and to hope for (and talk up) the best. Andso, your DOE-nut of the week:
New York City Schools will remain open.
Sunday, December 12, 2021
Three DOEnuts & Free Advice
Three turn of events happened this week that made me reach for my donuts.
First, I was a little taken aback when I observed the vulnerabilities of AFT leadership this week. We do live in a post COVID world and almost everything here happens online. Add the chain of events that can best be described as the culture war flareups to this dynamic and you'll find a toxic brew. The deeply rooted clashes have been occurring with much more frequency than in the pre covid world. Many of them happen or are planned online. And, as the amount of activity has increased, so too have the acts of counter activity. Remember when saboteurs took out a Trump rally? They used social media to convince others to register and make sure all of the seats were sold out -to anti Trumpers. Well right wing activists were able to shut down an AFT event.
Doing her best to organize a Town Hall that would neither inflame the left or the right, the AFT president fell into a political pit and inflamed both. Here is how the left reported it. It captures fully half the story. The other half is what alarmed me: The right wingers harassed her participants on social media, which caused them to pull out over issues of safety -effectively killing the event. That these type of acts were directed at a teacher union is disgusting. But to see that the AFT is vulnerable to something like this is deeply deeply concerning. I hope the AFT is having a 'let's learn from this moment', because if these types of tactics are being directed toward a union representing school teachers, then we have a much larger problem. Don't forget, we're too busy to open up and speak up for ourselves. That's partly why we have a union. A union can be strong during those moments when we ourselves can not. The thought that the my union's ability to build alliances (which is the best weapon in its (chosen) arsenal) can be vulnerable to an attack like this remind me how vulnerable I am without a union. I hope it's not over the top to say: that's chilling. I hope the AFT pulls it together.
Second, I was surprised to see that Mike Mulgrew wasn't at the announcement of David Banks becoming the next next school chancellor. I am fairly sure I remember him there when Carmen Fariña was announced. I am almost quite sure I remember him there when Richard Carranza was announced. I don't know, I just had the sense that the union president should be there. However, I noticed exactly none of the articles about Banks' announcement mention or show the face of the teacher union president at all. That's alarming and it should be a read flag for anyone who cares to pay attention to these things. For the past seven years, this city's school system has been held together by teachers holding hands and dong their best to make sure bad policies didn't hurt children. In fact, a large part of that saving grace was that the UFT was at the table when many of the decisions were considered. That, according to the state chancellor, is "including teacher voice".
Yeah, the person who represents teachers wasn't there. That's a problem. This union is going to have to fight for its seat at the table -and I'm not talking about the political table. I'm referring to the table where they negotiate fair working conditions and a fair salary for me. They're going to have to fight for its seat at that table. That's troubling.
Third was this blog post, describing Dan Wesiberg and reminding me that the person who will be handling the day to day operations for the NYC Dept. of Education is as anti teacher as they come. Anti teachers hate teacher unions. And a review of the Weisberg's tweets alone (tweeted after he had left the Bloomberg DOE and as recent as 2020) is almost terrifying but well worth the read. The thought of an anti teacher in charge of teachers is beyond chilling.
The last time these types of folks were in charge, they divided the school system between the "haves" and the "have nots" and created an illusion of "choice". The "haves" got brand new boutique schools with names like "Beacon", "Elenor Roosevelt" or "Bard", while the "have nots" got a reminder that choice isn't choice for the tens of thousands of students who applied but did not get in, and that choice wasn't ever choice for the thousands of students who do not win the lottery for the charter they had been sold and sought out as a better option. Choice wasn't choice for them.
But then that's not what made the papers.
No, no. The last time these people ran the show, the "have nots" were simply divided -culled, in fact- and over-concentrated into over-populated schools that were under-funded and, eventually, closed under the allegation that the school (not the district or the politicians like this person) had failed the students. This is the legacy Mr. Weisberg is going to bring to the table and it's super concerning.
If that's what we're headed again, then I'm gonna need more donuts.
The last time the ed reformers went overboard with their reforms, it hurt a great many students and established, in the most literal sense, an accurate narrative of a Tale of Two Cities. They treated school teachers in the most terrible of ways and precisely none of their reforms -from Common Core to VAM teacher evaluations- left a marked improvement on children by way of student achievement.
And, because New York City is the media capitol of the nation, they left a stubborn national teacher shortage in their wake that has persisted now for almost 10 years. In fact, at the end of the day, they had to be beaten back by teachers and parents who were so fed up they took to the streets together in protest.
Having said, there is much inside their narrative that should not be taken literally and I'd advise laying back to see how things may shake out.
For instance, teachers will not be forced to work every Saturday. Eagle Academy (form where Chancellor Banks comes) does not have Saturday school in the strict sense of the word. They have a Saturday Program. Same for the summer time. If expanded all across the city, these programs would be voluntary for UFT teachers and many (many) UFT teachers will gladly sign up, because teachers like working with children and getting paid.
In addition, Mr. Weisberg's presence should also be measured against the next mayor's and new chancellor's stated aims: To make Tweed (and the "satellite central locations') more efficient by shifting some of those human resources back to the classroom. Mr. Weisberg may well be here for that purpose and, frankly, teachers would like Central to be efficient as well. There are people there who get paid just to pour through school CEP plans or student IEPs, looking for typos and others who's only job is to give PDs to teachers with no measurable way to determine the outcome of their work. Look, when there is a $38 Billion annual budget and we still do not have access to laptop computers for student work (which is the case in my and in many other schools) then we have a huge problem. Maybe the time has come to shift some resources back to the classroom level.
This is why I would advise paying careful attention to the NYC education news but not overreacting unless they enact a policy that clearly hurts students (or one that hurts students by way of hurting their educators).
And the teacher union, despite the obvious chaos that they are in on their own, has to elbow their way in. They can't accept a situation where the head of the union isn't visible when a new district leader is picked. If Mr. Banks is seen like that again, then there needs to be 100 teachers across the street protesting and demanding that our union be publicly treated with courtesy and respect. We teachers (many times with support of the union) were the ones continuing to improve during the past eight years when leadership was on the wane. If leadership is going to be on the wax again, then we don't want to see our union dissed. The UFT needs to push their way into that dynamic.
Saturday, December 4, 2021
Weapons In Schools
In August of 2020, news organizations were reporting that gun shops all across the country were empty. Every person who could were buying guns (here).
By January of 2021, the Washington Post was reporting that gun sales had, in fact, spiked all across the country in March and April of 2020 and that fear of unrest was the main reason:
"... purchases soared in March and April as the effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus led to food shortages, empty streets and millions of lost jobs. Then firearm sales peaked in July, in the weeks after massive protests against police brutality spread throughout the nation...
The flood of gun sales — about 23 million over the course of the year — represents a 64 percent increase over 2019 sales, according to a Post analysis of federal data on gun background checks. The 2020 numbers include purchases by more than 8 million first-time buyers, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade group..."
The plain truth is this: During much of 2020, a great many people sought to buy handguns expressly to be sold on the black market inside urban areas during a time of great crisis. As a consequence, we now have a gun problem inside urban areas. New York City is no different.
Our incoming mayor seems to feel this is related to organized crime. I believe him.
"...It is my hope that we will also go further and create a Joint Gangs and Guns Task Force that combines information and resources across all relevant government agencies, which would aggressively go after illegal gun dealers and traffickers with targeted investigations and tougher penalties..."
Organized crime, via street gangs, has a way of utilizing high school students, when needed. This is why it should be no surprise that some of these guns are showing up in New York City high schools:
A 17-year-old city student was busted with a loaded 9 mm pistol and more than $30,000 in cash inside a Brooklyn high school Wednesday, according to law enforcement sources.
A school secretary spotted what she believed to be a firearm inside the backpack of a student at the Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice in downtown Brooklyn around noon, sources said.
The staffer spotted the weapon while the tardy student recorded his attendance inside a school office.
NYPD units were called to the scene and discovered a stack of bills amounting to more than $30,000, along with the loaded gun, sources said.
And, as guns enter schools, so too do other weapons:
City officials placed a single metal detector in a Brooklyn school building the day after a student was busted with a loaded gun — and turned up 21 weapons in just one day, law-enforcement sources said.
Thursday’s surprise installation netted a varied arsenal — nine knives, seven cans of pepper spray, four stun guns and a pair of brass knuckles, sources said.
Look, we have a weapons problems in schools. It is no one person's fault. But the problem is upon us. No one is looking too hard at this problem, because no one wants to acknowledge such things, but we have a weapons problem in our schools. And that problem needs to be addressed -now.
To be clear, this problem is part of a much larger cascade of events; one that began during the darkest days of the lockdown and in far away places where guns can legally be purchased.
But it has now evolved into guns and other related weapons being brought into schools -both by students who seek to aggressive behavior and by students who are simply seeking to feel safe within an unsafe environment. If this problem persists, it will continue to cascade. We will continue to see more weapons used in NYC schools and, eventually, will be faced with crisis and read about how these weapons had actually been used during an altercation to harm another child or school staff member. If it persists, we will continue to see lower attendance in our classrooms (because children tend to stay away from violent environments) and we will eventually see a return to "zero tolerance" policies because no one will know what else to do. (Those policies will cause much more harm to many more children than any single violent altercation ever could. But, the pattern of history persists, that what we will all have).
But if this problem is addressed, in a proactive, pro-parent and student manner, it will be nothing more than a blip on the screen of history of an oddball year.
These proactive measures should include stakeholder from the entire school community. Teachers need to be trained again on how to identify gang related behavior in schools and on ways to keep a quiet, yet careful eye open for any weapons that may be in a student's book bag or on a student's person. Support staff, including counselors and school disciplinary staff, need trainings on how to address students who have weapons. (Those trainings need to include creating space for children to express what can we can do so that they feel safe enough to come into school without having to bring a weapon, but the trainings must also include strict disciplinary measures for any weapon carrying student who is seeking to conduct aggressive behavior.) School leaders need to update their Building Safety Plans (completed every year around this time) to include more emergency lockdown drills, procedures for how every teacher can communicate with the front office should a crisis situation erupt near (or even in) their classroom. And schools need to develop and implement a plan for keeping the safety corridor (that space between the school building and the nearest public transportation stop) safe during arrival and dismissal times. And schools need to partner with NYPD for help and for support. Because if a student winds up hurt or worse inside of a NYC public school due to weapons violence, then the NYPD will be partnering with schools and school officials will have far less voice within a crisis dynamic than they do now.
If we don't figure out ways to establish and maintain a care filled presence in the candy stores and on the corners where city high school students gather before and after their academic day, then the NYPD soon will. That would not be a bad thing. But it does not have to be a necessary thing either. This school system has gotten guns and weapons out of schools before. It can do it again. But it needs to set the priority now before these events continue to cascade to a point where a child or school staff member becomes seriously hurt inside a city school.