Thursday, September 16, 2021

Back to School, and COVID's Not the Only Issue

I'm really in a state of semi-shock at being back at work. While some are overjoyed, and others are horrified, I fall somewhere in the middle. Honestly, with COVID hanging over our heads, I'm mystified at the relentless optimism some people display. This notwithstanding, I'm thrilled to be back doing my real job, and now that I'm a dean, I'm kind of fascinated by my new one.

Being a dean was really great for the first few days. I spent most of my time orienting and helping kids find their way around our huge overcrowded building. This kind of work is great for me. Also I kind of like walking, so running around the building like a lunatic fits right into my personal lunacy. 

My classes are great. The students are mostly new, and sometimes very nervous. Because my classes are small, I've been able to really focus on some of my more frightened and/ or needy students. When they had problems, I was able to go right up to them and walk them through. I'm trying to put all my handouts and things online, and I really don't think that the city's remote instruction, synchronous,  asynchronous or otherwise, will be any issue at all. 

Of course, not everything is perfect. I've now gotten to see NYC's non-HEPA air filters up close, and they suck beyond belief. I turned one on, and within five minutes it turned itself off. I thought that was odd, so I tried the other one, and had the same result. I briefly considered tossing them out the window, but all the windows were closed. I was not sure that tossing machines out windows was the precise impression I wanted to leave my students the first week, but what do you do with garbage if not toss it out?

On the bright side, the room is air-conditioned. This was particularly helpful last week. I have colleagues who are not so fortunate. Of course they are in full classrooms, while I'm in one of the quasi-closets in which newcomers from my school have been dumped forever. This is not too bad now, but if we get a lot of over the counter students, it will be a disaster. I'd actually asked for a trailer. Since almost no one wants them, and for good reason, they're usually easy to get. Though the trailers are awful, they are full sized and you can give tests in which cheating is not akin to the national pastime. 

Wednesday I deaned the second and third floors of our school. One of our school's policies is to close student bathrooms for the first and last ten minutes of each period. I think, actually, that this is a fair policy. It means, for one thing, that we don't have students taking the pass at the beginning of the period and returning at the end. It also theoretically means the bathrooms are not likely to be all-day hangouts for students looking to avoid the whole class thing, or run illicit businesses, or whatever may happen in there. 

I soon learned, however, that none of our bathroom doors naturally close. So if I lock a door, pull it shut, and a student is inside, the student exits and the door remains ajar. This, essentially, means locking and unlocking the bathroom doors is a complete waste of time. Not only that, but I recall this coming up at a UFT consultation years ago. This means the doors have  been that way for years.

In fact, after having locked a girls' room door, I returned back to it to hear a girl banging on the door, stuck inside, and unable to get out. I unlocked it and gave it a brutal shove to open it. It is unbelievable and unconscionable that no one has repaired these doors in years. Someone should make it uncomfortable for the doors to be left that way, and I've got a number of ideas about how to make that happen. 

It's not really just about kids being trapped in bathrooms. I was about to lock a boys' bathroom, and given the girl being locked in, I asked whether anyone was inside. (I don't know about you, but I'm not walking into a student bathroom. Anyone could accuse you of anything,) A number of boys walked out, One, upon seeing I was going to close and lock the door, said, "Wait. Let me get my stuff." He emerged with a large skateboard and a backpack. 

Now I have no idea what was in the backpack, but the boy had evidently planned to return to the bathroom later, or he wouldn't have left his things there. I also noticed him looking very carefully under a radiator as I walked him downstairs and toward the cafeteria. I doubled back, but found nothing there. But who knows what showed up there later?

It's absolutely insane that we can spend years with faulty doors, enabling not only trapped students, but also opportunities for students to do virtually anything in those bathrooms. I would not feel safe sending a kid into one of those rooms, yet as a teacher, it's actually my job to do so. I don't really like turning over rocks and seeing what's underneath. I hope not to learn a lot of things like this one.

But holy crap, I have to be far from the first person to notice this. I hope I'm not the only one determined not to look the other way and let this situation fester. 

I'll soon find out.

Monday, September 13, 2021

UFT Executive Board September 13, 2021--The Good, the Bad, and the DOE

VP Karen Alford--Saw incredible energy in schools, though teachers had angst, none showed in schools she saw today. Saw bands and pom poms, love grace and energy. Felt like a homecoming. Hope you had same. Our teachers are the best.

VP Janella Hinds--Also saw lots of energy at her school. Different this year was number of parents standing outside watching teenage kids go in. Were tears, hugs, haven't seen this much parental turnout before. Students welcomed with music and balloons.

VP Rich Mantel--Was great. Same energy, enthusiasm. Didn't see as many parents. Folks were happy to be with kids. Hope you all also had great day.  

Mike Schirtzer--Great first day, kids super excited to be back. Concern with lack of testing. All should be tested. With 3 year old at home unvaccinated would like all eligible students vaccinated. Would like remote options for those who need it.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew--Thanks us. Echoes what officers reported. Didn't think this would be the smoothest school opening. Many people volunteered and were trained in safety, social-emotional things. Today everyone in this union should be very proud of membership and how hard we worked. Things were very smooth. We don't have final attendance, but was north of 800K. 

I thought entry app would crash but MS moved quickly and gave more broadband. Teachers seemed to say we got this, and saw this over and over. Saw balloons, bands, red carpets, happy parents. They were just as anxious as we've been but this was a great day, the smoothest opening ever. City lucky to have folks in this union. You saw how important it was to do their jobs.

Now we can talk a little more freely about some things. We have not been happy about last-minute decisions. We had to do things on fly--safety protocols. There will be big air filters in cafeterias. Schools are clean. We have safety hot line set up. 

Vaccine mandate--We knew majority of our members were vaccinated. We have highest % of city workers. There is convo about challenging it. Five unions mandated, not just us. There may be more. I knew because of 9/27 deadline lawsuit would take too long, so we moved into impact bargaining. Otherwise city could have dumped people off payroll, and that was their position. They wanted to do that, so we went immediately to PERB. We also had to go to court, as they wanted to recognize exemptions and remove people from payroll.

We tried mediation for three days, and moved to arbitration. We needed to move forward. Exemptions and accommodations had to be honored. We can't have medical conditions used to take people off payroll. We heard a lot from membership, about, for example, pregnancy. All doctors took position if you're pregnant you should be vaccinated. We didn't want people giving birth to lose medical coverage, so we put that on the table, and looked for ways for people to do meaningful work. 

We made a much stronger case than city. Toward end, mayor spoke publicly about arbitration. Not supposed to do that. He said city of course would recognize exemptions and keep them on payroll. Mayor said he was always going to do this but that was never the case. Thursday we pushed because we needed a decision. Medical accommodations were being denied. Was very ugly. Denying vaccinated people with no immune system. Doctors said you can't be inside of schools, and some can't leave homes. 

Things got ugly. On Friday we said we needed a ruling. Thanks members, staff, and some people volunteered to go on TV if necessary. We did press conference with people being denied. This changed, I believe, final outcome, as people saw conditions and what they suggested. Friday evening we finally got arbitration even as city denied having denied people. City apologized, called denied members and apologized to them. 

Don't usually agree with Post, but their headline was de Blasio loses to UFT. These members have to be protected and will be. 

Issue now with members who don't want to take vaccine. Anyone who's applied for exemption, we don't believe city will be done by Sept. 27. Decision will wait on appeals process. This will be done by neutral party, not city. People who don't want to take vaccine, without exemption, will be put on involuntary leave, but will have medical benefits until November 30. Up to Oct. 29 severance package is available. Can use sick days one for one and will keep medical coverage for rest of year. Will not lose license, and can return. Can also opt for voluntary leave until next September and keep medical coverage. On September 5 are automatically resigning. If you do nothing, on Dec. 1, city will file disciplinary charges and go after license.

Unions are challenging court case.We say city can't grant exemptiomns and remove people simultaneously, Only our members are covered under arbitration, but it will be used as evidence in court case. So far, this is working. Many people helped. Agreements are just for one year. All of these are subject to operational complaints, except salary. 

Cafe big concern for us now. If not possible to use, we think there can be lunch and learn, and teachers will receive coverage for every day it's done. DOE agreed to all provisions from last year. 

Mike Sill--Everything in memo, time off for vaccine, for side effects, COVID symptoms, if been told to quarantine, days won't come out of CAR. These are limited. More time for leave at 2/3 pay, up to 12 weeks. Last year didn't apply to health care workers, this year they do.

Mulgrew--Mask policy--We now have one to deal with what happens if there is an issue. Took long time, but said of course we want to involve child, but it's safety issue.

Home schooling--Chancellor and mayor said medically fragile children would be part of it. Didn't make sense at first. We were able to say they could be taught on 15-1 ratio remotely. We can perhaps expand it. 

More to come. We have special ed. issues. Will get info out as we have agreements.

Today was really good day. We will have tough days and things will go wrong. We have to help members. Worth it to keep constantly pushing. We saw political games in other cities. We want more testing. City says it's doing more than last year, but we have 3X as many people. What we will need is more testing teams. We need about 20 more. Has to start at elementary schools on weekly basis. Can't predict future, but hope we will get it. We have the most, but NYC doesn't have remote option like LA and Chicago. Was not free for all. Was criteria around it. We'll have to see attendance over next few weeks. 

If parents decide there's no way, can city just say they get no education for the year? We won't stand by for that. In that case, we will need a real remote option. First priority now should be monitoring, and pushing for weekly testing. Believe we'll have 75% of over 12 vaccinated this week. Today was relatively good because we were out there. 

Next week this board will be in person. You need to show proof of vaccine to enter. Will try next week. 

Spring break negotiation first arbitration we filed. On 27th we will find out when it's scheduled. 

Questions/ answers

Member quarantined but now unvaccinated can file for medical exemption on SOLAS. Questions can be directed to Mike Sill.

Where will staff go who has accommodations?

Most will go to non-classroom DOE facilities. Some will not be able to. Doctors will decide.

How is med. accommodation different from traditional?

Sill--City said there would be none. We said they didn't have authority to do blanket denials and exceptions. We asserted you have to offer reasonable and medically warranted exemptions.

Mulgrew--Not all leaves are the same. We're talking about COVID leaves, and hope we never need one again, but you'll have up to a year, and your job and benefits will be reserved. 

Last year, nurses weren't included. Will they be included this year?

Yes they will. This is for all UFT members. Accommodations will be limited to severely immunocompromised. 

Appears DOE changed pre-COVID policy demanding one formal and one informal observation. 

DOE cannot do that. Can only use what we have in contract for observations. We have no agreement otherwise this year. Contact us if this happens.

Will r and f be in contract negotiations?

Hopefully school gets organized quickly. We've extended reorganization to November 5. After we get through that we will put this together, and of course it will be rank and file. DOE didn't want to do digital agreement with us. Claimed they had right to mandate it. Digital work will be big part of negotiation.

Hearing that vaccinated members who test positive with no symptoms are expected to report and not quarantined. (See update at end of post, please.)

True, unless they show symptoms. Vaccinated people have less chance of getting sick. We agree with protocols in terms of quarantining right now. We know how to get through this. We get people vaccinated. As a union, we have done our job. That's a testament to the work that happened here. Ask that people respect one another. Some people are upset about whatever the city does. We will have debate about vaccine mandate and will try to take care of all members, vaccinated and unvaccinated. 

Upsetting when people attack their own union. Same people who paid for Janus are trying to get people to quit union. That's a line you don't cross. We could've jumped around and screamed, filed to go to court, and if we took those actions, everyone would have been put out on September 27 with nothing. Impact bargaining was the way to go. Some people have gone to other side, are not unionists, and work to hurt unions.

Thank you. What you did today was wonderful. Being reported everywhere. 

What's our position on mandated vaccines for 12 and over?

We don't have official position right now. As long as new strains come in, more actions will be taken. Like what Biden did. If I have to use money or legislation to push vaccination, I will do it. Of course some will disagree. We already have five mandated vaccines for school age children,. Mississippi has eight, but complains about COVID requirement. It is a state issue, and requires state approval. Hoping that third vaccine clarification comes soon.

Thanks again for all your work through August. See you 27th in person. 

UPDATE: I've received clarification from a UFT source: Vaccinated teachers EXPOSED to the virus but showing no symptoms do not have to quarantine. Vaccinated teachers who test positive DO have to quarantine.

Friday, September 10, 2021

NYC Is Moving Backward

It's bizarre to be back, actually. We get updates from Tweed, whenever they feel the urge, but they're less than consoling, to me at least. They're doing a terrible job, and the mayor's testing program is woefully inadequate, I read somewhere that the chancellor says they can change it on the fly, but I don't believe it. Everything DOE does is poorly planned and thus an arduous process. 

In our school we've miraculously found a way to enable 3-foot distancing, for whatever that's worth. We took our ten period day and extended it to 14. Periods are somewhat shortened, so late and early days won't be all that terrible and extreme. There will be issues, but they will be better issues than the ones we'd have if we were at full capacity. 

We've also closed up our lunchroom, for the most part. That's not to say that students can't eat. They can go whenever they like, but it's a grab and go thing. I thought that was a good idea too until I heard the fine details. Evidently, because students no longer have lunch periods, they will eat in classes. So much for masking and protection. The idea is that they'll just eat for a few minutes, so we'll spread disease for a short time rather than a long one. I suppose we're supposed to take solace in that.

It was easy to tell that whoever made this particular plan was not doing so from the viewpoint of a teacher, or at the very least hadn't been in the classroom for a while. There's always a difficult and recalcitrant student in a class. This, of course, will be compounded by the anti-mask MAGA lunatics telling their children what Tucker told them last night. As far as this issue, the difficult student number will likely be compounded.

Now if I were a teenager, and I didn't want to wear a mask, I'd bring a lunch tray to the class and eat ever so slowly. That way I could tell the teacher I was entitled to eat in class, and if the teacher were to give me a hard time I'd call out my rights were being violated. It's not my fault I'm a slow eater, and how dare you criticize my eating habits. I always got a full period for lunch before, and you're violating my rights. You don't need to be a genius to know this will happen over and over, and I'm frankly glad I stepped down as chapter leader. I don't want to sit through 200 disciplinary meetings hearing about how people are in trouble because of insane policies.

While we're on the topic of insane policies, I'm hearing that if you are vaccinated, infected, and not showing symptoms that you have no need to quarantine. I don't really know whether that's true or not, as I've yet to see it in print in any policy statement. This notwithstanding, people keep telling me they've heard it. You know, just because you're asymptomatic, it doesn't necessarily mean you aren't contagious. If this is, in fact, a policy, it will result in the spread of COVID,  just as our curious lunch policy will. 

In LA, they not only have a better testing policy than we do, but they've also made the very sensible move to mandate vaccines for eligible students.  I feel like we, in the city that never sleeps, are living in something akin to the dark ages. While that might seem extreme, I'm 100% sure we aren't doing the best we can for our students, let alone ourselves. 

This system will not and cannot sustain itself.

I've seen teachers crying in the hall. While I, being the macho man I am, have not actually cried, I fully understand their apprehensions. At this point, it's tough for me to differentiate Mayor de Blasio from some of his MAGA counterparts. He's not as bad as the lunatics running Florida or Texas.

But he's no bargain either.

Sunday, September 05, 2021

Remote MOA--The Good, the Bad, and the Probable

Like a lot of people, I got to see the UFT-DOE MOA the day before it was released. Perhaps some genius at the DOE leaked it. There's a lot to process there. I've seen a lot of commentary on the agreement. It's forced overtime, rank and file should have voted on it, it's not enough money, and so forth. 

Personally, I'm happy to take $225 to set up a digital classroom. It's not very time-consuming, for me at least, and in the long run it will save me quite a bit more time. For example, with the exception of tests, I'm not making class sets of copies anymore. My classroom will be almost entirely digital. Look at it on your laptop, your iPad, or print it out yourself. 

Also, I don't expect to do a whole lot in terms of asynchronous instruction. All of my homework assignments will be online, and as far as asynchronous instruction, it will be another homework assignment. I don't really expect my students to accomplish online what we do in a live class, and anyone who does is laboring under a misconception.

As for the one or two weekly office hours, there are options. You can work them out as you wish. Do you want those extra hours? Then do them. I don't, so I'll place them sometime during my prep periods if I can. As for overtime, the fact is it only kicks in after 40 hours, and we don't work 40 hours. If that's not enough, I've never heard of a teacher being paid overtime, and I've never been forced to work beyond my hours. I doubt that will happen this year either. This agreement is something you can tailor to your schedule and inclinations. I'm gonna make the best of it.

I think all the people parsing the details of this agreement are missing the big picture, though. The issue is not how the world is going to end if we work a few extra hours a week during a worldwide emergency. This agreement, though, seems to anticipate the potential shitshow of continuing COVID infection. If this many people quarantine, do this. If that many quarantine, do that. If you quarantine, do this. 

How on earth are we going to populate schools with students, most of whom do not even qualify for the vaccine, and not massively spread the infection? I can't begin to imagine. The only good thing Mayor de Blasio has going for him is his ridiculous testing policy. If we only test 10% of the unvaccinated, and only test those who've given permission to be tested, we've got a hole so big you could drive a Mac truck through it.  

So it's possible, given the preposterous system we have, that we won't catch the COVID wave until it's too late. While de Blasio may think that buys him time, and congratulate himself on how clever he is, the fact is when the shit hits the fan there will be massive closings. They will, in fact, be far worse than they would if he'd initiated a robust and sensible testing system. 

How long will this take? I can't say. But I see teachers on Facebook betting we'll be entirely remote by Thanksgiving. That doesn't sound unreasonable to me. 

Brace yourself, everyone. The city has decided, with almost everyone in attendance, that it only needs a fraction of the testing it did when it only had a fraction of the students. If you can't see what that spells, you may just be hard of reading.

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Anti-Vaxxers Get Us Nowhere

It's a funny year we have coming up. I made a last minute decision not to retire just yet and I'm going back. But this year looks almost as strange as last year, and it's hard to make sense of what's coming. 

I remain amazed that the right wing has managed to make fundamental safety a political football. In Florida, the MAGA governor doesn't want mask requirements. One unvaccinated teacher removed a mask to read a story and managed to infect half the students. Of course they brought the infections home to their families. Thankfully, they all recovered. 

Despite that, the ICUs are still full or close to capacity down there, even as infections decrease, for now at least. That, evidently, is due to higher vaccination rates. I wonder whether the offending teacher is among those opting for vaccination. 

Here in NY, things may be different, given the mandate for vaccinations. From a recent Times article:

About 75 percent of teachers who live in New York City have received at least one dose of a vaccine. By contrast, only about 43 percent of Police Department employees have been vaccinated.

Mr. Mulgrew has estimated that 70 or even 80 percent of his members are vaccinated, regardless of where they live, but his union also lacks definitive numbers.

I'd conjecture that Mulgrew is right, but of course conjecture is all it is. I'm in a Facebook teacher chat group in which I regularly post on this topic, and those opposed to the mandate are pretty vehement about it. Some say they'll leave their jobs rather than get vaccinated. We shall soon see. It also appears that fewer than half of the Trump supporting NYPD are vaccinated. It's a freedom thing, you know, even though Trump himself is vaccinated, as are all governors, even in Florida and Texas. 

Then there's the argument that you can get infected even if you are vaccinated. So why bother? I saw someone write the only effect the vaccine has is saving your own life. How selfish, to save your own life. A truly bold person, evidently, would risk dropping dead on a ventilator for no good reason. And some have. One Texas anti-mask proponent, battling "Covid-19 tyranny," first took Ivermectin and then ended up dying after a month in the hospital. A Georgia sheriff pushing Ivermectin, just joined the ranks of the dead. An anti-vax lawyer for the capital rioters is on a ventilator.

Here on earth, we look to the CDC for guidance. While some still oppose vaccines mandated as useless, CDC says that most people who get COVID are unvaccinated. They add the following:

  • The best way to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to prevent infection by Delta or other variants is to get vaccinated.
  • For people who are vaccinated and still get infected (i.e., “breakthrough infections”), there is a risk of transmission to others.
  • That is why, if you are vaccinated or unvaccinated and live or work in an area with substantial or high transmission of COVID-19, you – as well as your family and community – will be better protected if you wear a mask when you are in indoor public places.

So it's hard for me to understand why people hang onto this stuff. I actually heard Trump say somewhere that he was vaccinated, and that it wasn't a bad idea. Of course, he couldn't say this without blabbering about freedom, and how it's your own decision. 

Every year nurses come into my classroom and announce to various students that they need to be vaccinated or they can't return to class. I see no reason why we ought to be exempt from mandates for students. In fact, I see no reason why students ought to be exempt from mandates for teachers. If I were the mayor, I'd mandate that every student over 12 needs to be vaccinated.

Of course I'm not the mayor. The mayor has other concerns. Likely his overriding concern is getting all NYC schoolchildren back into buildings. The mayor, in his infinite wisdom, has determined there will be no remote instruction this year. After having provided it for over a year, I can't stand remote instruction, This notwithstanding, it's better than dying from COVID, and it's likely that a lot of parents of younger students won't want to send their kids in. 

Mayor de Blasio will enact remote instruction at the last moment, at least for younger unvaccinated students, when he has no other alternative. Because of that, the planning will be, at best, minimal, and the results will be predictable. The lack of a remote option, though, certainly endangers the mask mandate. What if I tell a kid to put a mask on, and the kid refuses? Last year, that kid would be placed into remote classes. This year, what will happen? 

No one knows. That's typical of Mayor de Blasio's planning, which is essentially no planning at all. If I were this unprepared to teach my classes I'd get written up, and eventually removed for incompetence. Mayor de Blasio, on the other hand, will probably run for governor. I'm inclined to predict he'll fail, but if Donald Trump can be President, anything can happen.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Mayor de Blasio Does Own Research, Errs on Side of Convenience Rather than Caution

The city now has a plan of sorts to open schools in a pandemic. I say "of sorts" because it's more notable for what it ignores than what it includes. In a nation where COVID is exploding, in a world where the Delta variant is booming back even in widely vaccinated countries, de Blasio's plan seems to assume things are looking up. Of course, this isn't surprising. He was totally unprepared last September, so why expect any improvement this year?

This year, the city is also not setting a threshold number of COVID cases to close a school. Instead, the city will only consider closures if there is “widespread transmission”... 

Of course. Why nip things in the bud when you can simply wait until things get really bad? Why set a standard when you can sit on your ass in Gracie Mansion and hope the inevitable doesn't occur? I speak as someone who detests online learning. I taught on Zoom for over a year and it tore my heart out. Just about everything I love about being a teacher didn't happen. However, IMHO, health and safety trump all. 

That's not the only questionable aspect of the city plan, though. It's cutting way back on testing, 10% twice a month, and not bothering to test those who are vaccinated. While I am very much pro-vaccination, that alone does not prevent the spread of this disease. If it did, highly-vaccinated Israel would not be grappling with a surge. That's not all, though:

Now, school closures will be on a “case by case basis,” de Blasio said, but a summary released by the DOE did not specify a definition for widespread transmission.

If we don't even know what "widespread transmission" is, how on earth can we depend on this plan? Are we supposed to hope our bungling mayor, whose aversion to common sense is widely documented, will suddenly make the right decision? More likely disasters will occur, public outcry will explode, and he'll have no alternative but to act. 

Here's another gem:

For middle and high school classes, fully vaccinated students and staff who are exposed to confirmed cases but remain asymptomatic can continue to attend school and will be “encouraged” to take a COVID-19 test three to five days after potential exposure.

In yet another "hope for the best" policy, we're expected to be optimistic that vaccinated people will check whether or not they've contracted COVID. If they don't, oh well, we "encouraged" them, so this isn't the mayor's fault. 

There is a little sense here:

For elementary schools, with younger students under the age of 12 who are not currently eligible to get vaccinated, a positive COVID-19 diagnosis in a classroom will mean all students will be quarantined for ten days while receiving remote learning

Finally, the mayor has taken a step back from his absolutist declaration that there would be no remote instruction. There will have to be remote instruction of some sort. We still don't know, of course, how many parents will flatly decline to send their kids to schools. We do know that students under 12 cannot be vaccinated. Will full attendance, or close to full attendance, conditions are vastly changed. It's beyond belief that under these conditions, the mayor thinks relaxing testing is the way to go. This is a recipe for disaster, and there's no need for it whatsoever. 

As far as I know, the city has not bothered to negotiate remote instruction with UFT. Personally, I'm willing to do Google Classroom again, and it's hard for me to imagine how we fail to use it, at least as insurance of sorts. That said, it's extra work. There needs to be an agreement, and the DOE's cluelessness in not working this out is typically short-sighted.  

Soon, along with my UFT colleagues, I'm going back. In an effort to attempt social distance, our obscenely overcrowded school has adopted a 14-period day. That's because the DOE, in yet another breach of promise, couldn't be bothered to find us additional space. The consistent lack of planning will certainly be costly, and very likely deadly. 

There's a new city commercial playing suggesting, "please get vaccinated." Please do. That's the least we can do. 

Unfortunately, the least we can do is far from sufficient.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Who Has Three Feet? Not NYC's Children

It appears the CDC, in its infinite wisdom, recommends three feet social distancing for schools, if possible. If not, well, do other stuff and hope for the best. However, it still recommends six feet social distancing for everyone and everywhere else.

Let's look at that, just for a moment. Is there anyone, anywhere, who thinks schools are less contagious locales than others? If you're a working schoolteacher, how many times have you brought less contagious viruses home? How many times have you had the flu?

Is there anyone on earth, other than the geniuses at the CDC, who can offer a rationale for having lower health standards in schools than in bars or restaurants, or anywhere else? In fact, Mayor de Blasio is asking New Yorkers to provide proof of vaccines to enter restaurants, bars, gyms, and other indoor venues. Why, then, is the chancellor simply asking students nicely to get vaccinated?

But hey, I'm crazy like that. I think, given we're facing a deadly disease, we should err on the side of caution. The mayor and chancellor, on the other hand, think we should err or the side of being agreeable, not offending anti-vaxxers too much, and hoping no one dies right away.  This notwithstanding, I'm just not feeling the love. 

Three feet is a pretty low bar, and we can't meet even that. We were able to largely keep students safe last year, but no one seems to point out that this was because we had far fewer students in attendance. With, theoretically at least, everyone in attendance this year, the notion of lowering our standards seems absurd at best, and fatal at worst. There are voices who see major issues here, particularly given the fact that most of our kids will not be vaccinated. Three feet of social distancing?

The 3 feet of physical distancing recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which SPS is following “to the extent possible,” is an outdated standard based on less transmissible variants

That, in fact, is an understatement. We already know they demand six feet elsewhere, and if anyone has a rationale for the lower standard in school buildings, I'm all ears. This is not how we keep our children and families safe, particularly given the more virulent Delta strain (not to mention whatever that mutates into). 

Last night, despite an impending hurricane, Mayor de Blasio saw fit to hold an outdoor concert in Central Park. You can imagine how that worked out.

I later read that the mayor, in his infinite wisdom, asked people to shelter in somewhere around the park, but after two hours it was canceled.  New Yorkers anxiously waiting to hear Barry Manilow to sing Copacabana had to watch him do it on CNN. I'm personally grateful to not only have missed the concert, but also the CNN segment, but hey, Barry's not my thing.

My thing is looking out for the students of New York City, along with my colleagues in the schools. It's pretty clear to me that Mayor de Blasio is happily sleepwalking through this emergency with all the planning and forethought he put into his abysmal and embarrassing 2020 presidential run. Unfortunately, the stakes here are much higher. 

I don't mind if Mayor de Blasio makes an ass out of himself. This is America, and he has that right. However, his characteristic lack of planning is less than charming when we're risking the lives and health of over a million New Yorkers. Someone who isn't insane needs to have a stern word with the mayor. Could it be the chancellor? Could it be us?

It doesn't really matter who it is. What's really important is when. With less than three weeks until schools open, we don't have time to play games.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Blaz Has to Bend

Mayor de Blasio, like last year, has no solid plan whatsoever two weeks before schools open. We already know that he's decided that social distancing will only happen if he deems it convenient. Perish forbid the city, rolling in federal cash, should find actual space for overcrowded schools.

The chancellor is now suggesting more testing will occur where the virus is more virulent. Perhaps, having actually taught for only a year and a half, she's unaware that city students tend to commute. 

So far, it looks like the theme here is separate and not equal either. Maybe the mayor and chancellor deem this a new concept. Where the DOE motto was once, "Children First, Always,"  now it appears to have devolved into, "Fairness, shmairness."

The most grotesque form of unfairness, actually, is out of the hands of the mayor and chancellor. That is the fact that no one under 12 is so far eligible for vaccination. Sure, people say that young people don't suffer that much from Covid. It seems, though, that that is nonsense, and our young people are at far more risk than we'd thought.  

If I had a child under 12, I'd think twice before sending her to school at 100% capacity. I can't imagine I'm alone at that. In fact, I can't imagine there aren't thousands, or tens of thousands of parents thinking the same thing. De Blasio is playing a game, hoping everyone will say, "Sure, I'll send my kid to school and hope for the best." Maybe those parents don't know that social distancing is only a thing when de Blasio finds it convenient. Maybe they don't know that the much-ballyhooed plan from the DOE to help overcrowded schools is to do nothing and hope for the best. Maybe they trust the mayor.

I doubt that, though. When parents decline to send their kids to school, de Blasio's DOE will have to accommodate them. I don't see him saying, "Screw you, send your kids to overcrowded schools, hope they don't get sick and die or infect others." That's too much even for him. 

Another thing that will happen, likely after it becomes popular elsewhere, is vaccinations will be mandatory for those eligible to receive them. If the city can mandate MMR vaccinations, it can mandate COVID vaccinations for all but those who have legitimate health concerns that preclude them. If LA can demand staff be vaccinated, we can demand it too. 

I'm mystified as to why people object. The fact is, employers can demand we be vaccinated. Of course, you do have the freedom to decline. If you want to go live in a cave somewhere, give up on the notion of work, and never go anywhere in public, you have that right. However, we are a community, and the very least we can do is to make sure our brothers and sisters don't get sick and die of COVID. If that's too much for you, maybe teaching is not the correct career choice for you. You can always be a hermit, or a beachcomber or something. 

I'm not at all sure where UFT leadership is on this. I'd conjecture they are moving in this direction, but slowly. Randi Weingarten seems to be considering vaccine mandates, which is a huge improvement over NYSUT's inexplicable and inexcusable opposition. I think Randi's move signals a willingness to accept the inevitable, and UFT leadership (as well as NYSUT's) will be on board by the time it happens. Ultimately, I can't imagine any union leader fighting for our right to infect our students and each other. 

It saddens me a lot to imagine remote instruction, because I personally can't stand it. I'm hopeful though, as a high school teacher, every single person in our building will be vaccinated or turned away. That's the only sane way to approach a full opening. I believe sanity will prevail here, though it may take some time. 

For my brothers and sisters teaching lower grades, I don't see how that's viable until younger students too can get vaccinated. It was remarkable that the city was able to open schools to the degree it did last year. With the intervention of UFT, opening was as safe as it could possibly be. I honestly don't see how that will be possible with everyone in attendance. I only hope the mayor doesn't wait until people get sick and die before coming to his senses.

This mayor is late for everything. I only hope we don't have to wait until we're discussing late teachers and students before he changes course.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Blogger's Day Off...

 ....but you can read my op-ed on the lack of equity at the DOE in Gotham Gazette.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Anti-social Distancing

I'm quoted in this Chalkbeat article on social distancing. Some say social distancing is not as important as vaccination. They're right of course. But there is a saying to err on the side of caution, and the city is choosing to err on the side of hoping that not TOO many people get sick and die.

One of the worst aspects of this idiotic thinking is that someone will, in fact, get sick and die. I'd say that will be on the conscience of Mayor de Blasio's DOE, but if they did, in fact have any such thing as a conscience they would not have allowed the rampant overcrowding that exists all over the city.

In fact, as true as it may be that vaccines trump social distancing, the fact is we have no idea how many of our students 12 and over will be vaccinated. We know that some UFT members are not vaccinated, and even though they're tested weekly, we have a vaccine variant that's as virulent as chicken pox. That means that people in schools, vaccinated or not, can acquire and spread the virus.

Of course we also know that no one under 12 is vaccinated. How can the city rationalize overcrowding by saying the vaccine trumps social distancing when so many students will have neither? This is a disaster waiting to happen.

Now I know schools may have plans to mitigate this. Of course, with school three weeks away, there's precious little time to accomplish this. Once again, Bill de Blasio and his band of DOE geniuses have left things until the absolute last minute, and once again we can anticipate a very messy opening. 

I hate to say this, but there is a tremendous chance that schools will close once again as a direct result of DOE negligence. One reason I hate to say this is I do not like remote instruction. Not on a boat, not with a goat, not with a mouse not in a house. I honestly do not want to do this job sitting on a computer. I love to teach, but I don't love looking at icons representing students who are sleeping. 

The grotesque incompetence of the DOE, which can't be bothered finding sufficient space for the kids it ostensibly serves, is entirely to blame. Too bad Jeff Bezos would rather go to space than find some for those who need it. For Bezos, de Blasio would move heaven and earth and buildings in Astoria.

For the actual children he's tasked to serve? 

Forget it.