Thursday, August 20, 2020

Letter to Staff--Brace Yourselves

Yesterday I watched both UFT and Tweed speak of September. UFT went first, at 11 AM. Mulgrew said we needed to test everyone before they entered school so as to preclude a second wave of COVID. This was very much in line with what he discussed at our Town Hall last week. UFT had doctors and community leaders saying much the same. We know that a low infection rate can be quickly turned around, just as it did in South Korea and Israel.

Mulgrew said we will not go in unless it’s safe, You can view the meeting and the UFT safety plan right here. There is nothing more fundamental than safety, and it’s our job to ensure it for our students. We will take legal action and/ or strike before we expose our students, ourselves, and our families to unacceptable risk.

As if that’s not enough, the chancellor is talking about laying off 9,000 teachers in October if we don’t get federal aid to plug up the budget. He says if we don’t get it, we will have no option but to go all remote. If that’s the case, why on earth is he insisting on an unwieldy and ridiculous opening plan before we’ve even made schools safe?

Layoffs would be disastrous. Teachers would lose jobs, citywide, based on license and seniority. There would be involuntary transfers. In 1975, the last time this happened, class sizes went out the window, discarded because it was an emergency.

I saw none of this urgency or concern reflected in the chancellor’s meeting yesterday afternoon. The layoffs weren’t mentioned. Everything was fine, evidently, and this was the best of all possible worlds. It was like the worst faculty meeting I’d ever attended. The deputy chancellor spoke of how exciting the first day of school was, as though this were a typical year. (Someone needs to tell him it isn’t.)

The chancellor and his people, while advocating we go into classrooms with students, all broadcast from different rooms. The irony escaped them. The chancellor showed up five minutes late, and ended a minute early. I was pretty surprised he saw fit to keep tens of thousands of staff waiting. What do you think your AP would say to you if you showed up to class five minutes late and left early?

Also interesting was the deputy chancellor’s office. I saw three air-conditioners and a vent in the room he was using. If you think we’ll have ventilation like that in Lewis, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

Another of the chancellor’s peeps (perhaps the one who kept referring to children as “scholars”) said that she recognized the school calendar was very late. She thanked us for our patience. Can you imagine forgetting to put in grades for weeks and weeks and saying that to your supervisor? Yet at Tweed, they have no issue shirking fundamental responsibilities and speaking to us like that.

Our school opening plan is far from perfect, but it seems to actually work. The chancellor’s plans assume two teachers for each class. For example, if I were teaching 12 students in the building, someone else would be teaching my other 22 students. Who would that be?

The chancellor’s people said they were aware there weren’t enough teachers, and that people from Tweed would get out and teach. Here’s a fact—there aren’t enough people at Tweed to cover the teachers in our building, let alone the 1800 others in the city. They said let’s wait a few weeks and see what happens.

Imagine your AP asked you for a lesson plan. Imagine saying, “Hey, I’ll give it to you in a few weeks. Meanwhile, I’ll go in there and see what happens when I get into that classroom.”  That’s the kind of leadership we’re getting from Tweed.

There’s an apocryphal and sardonic Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.” I’m afraid those times have arrived, and in spades. Next month, we’ll find out. Brace yourself, because this is gonna be a rocky ride. But if we don’t stand for safety, we stand for nothing.

Bad as things are, we will face them, and we will come out stronger. We are the largest school in Queens and the most overcrowded in the city. We have faced and overcome every challenge thrown in our path. We are the United Federation of Teachers and we will stand strong through whatever comes our way. Our voices will be heard, in no uncertain terms.

As always, feel free to reach out with questions and concerns.

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