Archive for December, 2021

Winter is Here

As the hyper-contagious and vaccine-resistant Omicron variant overtakes Delta as the dominant strain in New York City, COVID-19 is poised to spread in our schools like never before. In response, our union leadership is offering up the Mayors’ promise for extra testing, more staff in the situation room, and reduced (yes, reduced) quarantining requirements as sufficient safety measures, which were (selectively) detailed in a recent email signaling to members that we’re reopening on Jan. 3 despite the surge. One key safety issue seems to have been swept under the rug:  it will now be impossible for many teachers to safely ventilate our classrooms.

This will be our first winter teaching inside physical buildings since 2020. Last school year (2020-2021), school buildings closed after Thanksgiving and didn’t reopen until the spring. We had some cold days, but never had to grapple with temperatures below freezing. Students will soon rightfully beg us to close our windows as the frigid January air gusts into unevenly heated rooms. But that’s a major problem, because for many NYC classrooms, windows are the only true source of ventilation. (Sure, we have air purifiers, but these noisy devices, which are impossible to teach over, aren’t  even actually HEPA-grade. So, if your electrical systems can even keep them running– many classrooms I’ve tried them in cannot–it’s unclear that they will do our staff or students much good anyways).

New Action is proud to be part of United for Change this year. We have put forward a much more comprehensive safety plan than what our union leadership just signed off on. Yes, increased testing is part of that (though, decreased quarantining is not). But if we’re going to keep schools open despite the escalation of the pandemic, then we’re going to need a whole lot more, including tackling ventilation during the winter. Until then, I guess we’ll just have to bundle up.


Mulgrew’s Delayed Response

Today on television, UFT President Michael Mulgrew made a statement about COVID in our schools. Why did it take him so long to come forward? In the last five days alone there were over 3,000 cases of infection in the schools. In just one day -on December 16 there were a total of 571 confirmed cases, including 336 students and 195 teachers, with 374 classroom closures. The data from the DOE clearly shows that since the start of school on Sept. 13 there have been 21,175 cases of COVID. The media has been showing teachers and staff at several schools  demonstrating in front of their schools highlighting unsafe conditions. So the question stands- why didn’t Mulgrew sound the alarm and advocate for his members when everyone could see what was happening? Why wasn’t he listening to his District Reps and Chapter Leaders who were surely communicating with him? And why did he wait until after the United for Change coalition issued a statement on the COVID crisis before speaking out?

Michael Shulman, Chair, New Action/UFT

New Action Member Speaks out on COVID Safety

If you read OSHA’s mission statement you will discover that this governmental agency was set up to ensure the workplace is safe for all. While doing my research it was not clear whether or not our unsafe schools (in case you forgot, Covid is rampant in our schools) was covered by OSHA. However, I came to learn New York State operates an OSHA-approved state plan “covering only state and local government workers.” I would love to know why the  Union leadership (that is you, Mr. Mulgrew), and your staff of attorneys isn’t filing a complaint to close schools. The pandemic is raging. School staff and students are getting sick and are at great peril. As the numbers rise exponentially, where is the Union to protect staff? Rome is burning, Mr. Mulgrew. Spend a little less time with the movers and shakers of NYC  politics and more time instructing your attorneys to file a complaint with the NY State OSHA approved agency.

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December 2021