Thursday, September 17, 2020

UFT Executive Board September 17, 2020--We Will Keep Kids Safe and Take Care of One Another


 5:50 roll call

Minutes--approved

UFT President Michael Mulgrew--We were prepared for different tactics, but we knew we could not open Monday. We weren't ready. It wasn't safe. We need better quality for safety. This is due to advocacy of members in all boroughs. That's what union does. 

DOE didn't understand, but we were out on the sidewalk because things were wrong. Principals could say everything was fine, but it wasn't. We met this afternoon with DOE. We said enough is enough. You serve the schools, they don't serve you. 

We now have to make them fulfill the plan. Not there yet, but we've made major steps toward getting schools what they need. We were in chaos, with thousands of operational issues. Much of this is tied to economic recession. Budget cuts affect us too, and we were looking at 9000 layoffs.

Today we're in a place where the mayor has said we will find money to open school system safely. Now we've gone from firing teachers to hiring teachers. Right off the bat we will get 4500 for preK to 8. No agreement yet for middle and high schools, but we will have that next week.

Yesterday we were looking at chaos on Monday, layoffs. Now we are looking at phased in opening, and more teachers. Meeting daily with mayor about schools. In contact with person in charge of Covid testing and tracing. We have a situation room, and we are getting results faster. We will be getting tracing reports about schools. 

Last Monday we were talking about ventilation, and ten school buildings were closed. We made city hire independent ventilation company to inspect every school. Once again, the section of our school system that is forgotten, D75, sites all over the city didn't get what was promised. This is an important story. About a site where children go every day, not cleaned since August, with not one piece of PPE. 

Chapter leader took all his teachers out on the sidewalk Tuesday. On Wednesday the press heard their story. This framed everything for the rest of the week. Teachers were in chairs on sidewalk saying we're not ready. Parents were enraged at being forgotten yet again. They'd had enough and didn't want regression. Life skills abilities couldn't regress. They said they loved their teachers and paras, and their kids had to go to school. D75 jobs are tough but rewarding. 

We are opening our school system again. Low positivity rate allows us to. People want to abuse, attack and get rid of public education. We will show them how to get a school system open and safe. We wouldn't be here if it weren't for all the advocacy for our schools. Right now all of DOE is on the phone talking to us and everyone, getting D75 everything they need. They've hired 60 new special ed. teachers and need more. 

Our preK sites are getting a lot of attention, but it shouldn't be anyone getting better attention. We should all get the attention. PreK and D75 opening Monday. If you don't have an accommodation you are reporting to your worksite. That is how we keep them in check.

Number one building is signage. In buildings everywhere we have it. We need it in schools. We are getting standalone ventilation machines for elementary schools. 

Temperature testing--Some people are doing health screenings on their phones. Everyone should be doing one. If it goes red, you are not to go to the building. We will get a school by school report next week on screenings. This talks about temp, close contact, traveling into some states or out of country. In that is the temperature check. We can also do so in building. We know some thermometers are malfunctioning. 

If someone does not do the health screening done, all you need is the temp check and they will be good. We will contact the parent. Health screening is key piece. If someone has symptoms or develops them, nurse will make determination.

We've come a long way since last Tuesday because of you. Four ways test results come in. First, if individual goes to H and H designated fast track site. If you go there and say you are DOE you will go into a fast track system. We are now getting result in 24 hours. If it doesn't have DOE fast track, it's 48 to 72 hours. 

Private commercial labs are different. If a member goes to one, the turnaround is completely out of city's control. Could be long time. 3-7 days. But individual doesn't have to report. Then it goes to state DOH, then to city DOH, and then they will get in touch. Takes much longer. If someone self reports, DOH has backdoor way around us, and verifies every test, including all self reporting. They are now completely out of the loop. If NYC employees self report, school should know there is a possibility, and there will be a quick investigation. 

Important piece is any NYC employee with medical documentation is automatically a positive test result. Must be for COVID 19 testing, NOT antibodies. People need to understand the difference. Contact tracing now has dedicated group which needs training. We've been digging into this and will stay on it until we get it right. We have a long way to go.

I knew the DOE would do business as usual and just put it all on the schools. All about them talking to each other and directing schools. Story about D75 has changed things. This was tipping point. It is their job to provide PPE, and provide what schools need to be successful. 

I knew Monday that something had to give. Hopefully, with focus, and doing things for d75 that had never been done, hiring, and working out schedules, we will have a shot at having schools ready to go.

Questions.

Principal and two people sent new schedule today, changed schedule, eliminated collaborative half hour to 15 minutes--

A--No way. Our agreement is based on agreed upon schedules. They can't pick and choose which parts of agreement they want to follow. Make sure this goes to superintendent.  

All D79 sites have had ventilation checks. 

Q--If I don't have accommodation but am full remote, why can't I do it at home?

A--If you're full remote I will let you know shortly, but we need you on site now to check that schools are in shape. We hope to clear this up by tomorrow. If you're fully remote you should be working at home. If school has large number of opt-out kids, some may have to teach remotely from building so everyone else can teach from home. Not resolved yet.

From yesterday afternoon, after meeting with DOE and CSA, we came up with agreement of teachers needed. Next we will look at middle and high schools.

Q--We still have no electrostatic cleaner. 

A--Problem with CUNY site. They haven't authorized spraying yet. Not part of CUNY cleaning protocols. Trying to work it out. CUNY got lawyers involved, want documents indemnifying them from any issues. If I have to intervene myself, I will. Why don't you write to chancellor of CUNY for now?

Q--Hearing from members that supervisors are not acknowledging agreement for related service providers saying it came from UFT. Creating confusion.

Mike Sill--I'll take care of it.

Mulgrew-We have to stay vigilant, keep advocacy up, and work out issues because we have to get open. Alaska is offering people money to keep kids at home, offering voucher for private online education. This is what we're seeing in this country, Alaska governor close to De Vos and her investments. These are our schools and our kids. We'll keep them safe and take care of one another.

The Chancellor Writes Again

 Dear Colleagues, 

I hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. If so, that has absolutely nothing to do with me. I was perfectly ready to send you all in two weeks ago. After all, that’s no skin off my apple. My office is cleaner than anyplace you work, and even the two schools Blaz and I visited were not fit for me to sit my Brooks Brothers covered ass on. Anyhoo, I am writing to you today with an important update on the start of school. 

For months we have, together, been preparing to reopen our school buildings.  Sure, our plan relied on magical co-teachers that didn’t exist. And sure, those slimy weasels at UFT thought we’d actually hire enough of them to actually do what we promised. You think we’re gonna leave you in a position to reduce the highest class sizes in the state post-apocalypse? Think again.


Our city’s infection rate has positioned us as the only  major  city in the country able to  welcome our children back  to our schools for in-person learning.  Of course we haven’t actually done that yet, and depending upon how much of a major fustercluck the whole thing turns out to be, we may not do it at all. But I digress.


As we  began our preparations, we made a pledge that we would put health and safety first.  And then those bastards in the press kept releasing the numbers of people who’d gotten sick. We, of course, being less than what you’d call competent, made that worse by including people who’d gotten sick in the summer and hadn’t reported to buildings since March. Oopzie.


And we made plans to make rich, high-quality learning experiences available to all students, regardless of where they are learning from. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Then we dumped them all and settled for the crap we have now. Kids come in a day or two, and hope for the best the rest of the week.


That is what we have done – and we  must  continue make new promises with highly lowered expectations as we prepare to open our buildings to students and families. 
 
Toward those ends, we have worked with our labor partners on a  new staggered start for in-person learning at the beginning of  this school year.  Children who are enrolled in fully remote programs will still begin full-day instruction on Monday, September 21. However, children in blended learning will get actual instruction maybe two days a week until we begin yet another senseless plan, the details of which will be incomprehensible as per usual.
 
We know that our schools and families are eager to reconnect in person, one or two days a week, and maybe get some kind of busy work the rest of the time – I know that kind of sucks but I’m completely bereft of ideas. We believe this extra time will help make sure we have viable excuses for the miserable failure this year is shaping up to be.  


I always say that New York City has the best teachers and staff in the world, and nothing will ever change that – no matter how incompetent I am, no matter how aimless the mayor is, you guys will get up and do your jobs even as I sit in my luxurious office and look out the window.   


Thank you for everything you do for the children and families of this city.  If it weren’t for all of you, it’s likely I’d have to go out and do, you know, actual work.

Sincerely,
Richard

Day One

I've spent hours, days, weeks and months dreading September. There were so many issues. As chapter leader, I don't feel like I've had a day off since June. How in the hell were we going to open the schools?

No one really knew. De Blasio's ridiculous plan fell apart, as anyone who gave it a cursory examination could have predicted. I remain amazed that he and Carranza could have stood behind such a senseless plan for a moment, let alone many months.

We have to be really careful selecting the next mayor. Full disclosure--I worked for and contributed to Bill de Blasio. I attended his inauguration. We're gonna need a mayor who will rid Tweed of Bloomberg's ghost. We're gonna need a mayor who will not continue to ignore the miserable state of our school facilities. 

We can't go through this again. Once is more than enough.

Then there's COVID, of course. My school is on the list of the dreaded 55. As far as I, or anyone in my school administration can tell, the only reported COVID case comes from a person who self-reported before the 8th and hasn't been in the building since March. It's entirely believable to me that the DOE could screw up something like that, because incompetence is their middle name. 

Two days ago, I went back to my education tech guru, the guy who showed me how to use both Zoom and Google Classroom on those miserable March days when we came back to be prepped by administrators, none of whom had experience with either platform. I sat in an office and he explained everything in fifteen minutes. At the time, he was a first year teacher. He's now a second year teacher, so he taught me how to use Google forms and docs within Classroom. Maybe I'll try giving quizzes or tests at some point, rather than pure writing assignments. 

The thing that surprised me most was the boost I got from seeing kids. I've been in a fairly substantial sulk these past few weeks. You know, online learning sucks, but it's better than nothing. I was very fortunate to be assigned to teach one level up from where I taught last year. As a consequence, I already know half of my students. It was great to see them again. I was really energized and happy.

I also went around and spoke with all the new students. I thanked them for coming. I don't know if I'm crazy, but it was just so cool to see these kids, even online. I think I can help them learn English, even online. It took a lot to get me out of that rut I was wallowing in, but I now feel completely unrutted. 

I hope you all feel the same, to one extent or another. It's a new, strange forbidding world, but we can find joy and fulfillment in it. We just need to look a little harder than usual.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

De Blasio and Carranza Abandon the Hybrid Fantasy

For weeks I've been marveling that the two grown men who ran education in the country's largest school district accepted a plan that relied on teachers who simply do not exist. If you break a class into two to five sections, who teaches the students who aren't in the building on any given day? Yet Chancellor Carranza would get up in front of news cameras and claim everyone would receive synchronous instruction each and every day. 

They explained how the fantasy worked. You and I would teach chemistry. We'd coordinate lessons and each of us would teach 12 kids a day. The other students from our classes, all 44 of them, would be with a hybrid remote teacher, who'd magically recreate our lesson online. Also, there'd be some kind of virtual something specialist who'd write and provide the lessons. The problem, obvious to everyone but de Blasio and Carranza, was that we then needed somewhere between 1.5 and 2 teachers where we used to need only one.

They put forth solutions. Everyone from Tweed with a license would teach. Supervisors would teach. They'd hire thousands of substitutes. Imagine a substitute, hired out of nowhere, with no experience. There's a long and hallowed DOE tradition that the least qualified person gets the most difficult tasks. They can't learn and you can't teach, so we put you together. It's poetry, a thing of beauty.

So who was gonna get those remote classes of 44? Of course it would be the new sub. That's one reason I argued we'd be teaching chemistry. I've got over thirty years experience and I can't teach day one of chemistry. How is a newbie we just dragged off the street gonna do it? How will that guy teach Chinese? In fact, how will a person with no experience teach anything to an obscenely huge class, on a computer, with no training whatsoever?

These were just a few of the issues with which our visionary chancellor had to contend. He was all smiles right up until recently. He had ideas. A Queens high school was told to eliminate all comp time jobs and make every supervisor teach two classes. They were grappling at straws and embracing ridiculous, unworkable solutions. And it just hung there, until days before opening, we learned they'd abandoned it on Twitter, of all places.

 Now I'm not what you'd call an organizational genius by any measure. But I knew the moment I saw this plan that it was unworkable. Even before I heard the details and fancy names for teacher roles I knew there were simply not enough of us to carry it off. In a way, it sounded good. Maybe we'd finally have enough teachers to reduce class sizes. Yet, even with a potential 50-100% increase in the number of teachers, this plan managed to make things even worse. It allowed for classes so huge, so inconsistent, that I wasn't sure the hybrid remote person could even learn student names, let alone substantively help them.

This plan was flawed and doomed from the start. Yet principals all over the city have spent months planning for it, flailing around in desperation to meet requirements that were simply impossible. Imagine if they'd spent that time prepping for a full remote return, and supporting the needs of a remote system instead of running around like headless chickens screaming, "How the hell are we gonna do this?"

Imagine, then, teaching your 12 students each day and being responsible for putting up some sort of asynchronous something or other for the ones who happen to be home that day. Imagine also having to grade whatever it was you slapped on the net each day. How thorough will it be? How thorough can it be?

Now imagine you're a parent, faced with sending your kid in a day or two each week, and hoping for the best on other days. Imagine your neighbor says, "Hey, my kid has full remote, and she's in class with a real teacher every day." It won't be a great challenge for you to determine that the remote program is better than the live program, especially when your kid comes home traumatized from being masked, socially distanced, and unable to socialize with either teachers or peers. An immediate surge in remote learning may be the only good thing that comes from this.

This city has indulged in some of the most irresponsible and idiotic planning I've been witness to in all my decades on earth. It rivals President Trump's national COVID plan, the one that doesn't exist. It's inconceivable to me that someone collected millions for devising this nonsensical plan, but clearly I'm in the wrong business. I have to meet my students in about ten minutes. While I don't regret that, I'm picturing the people who planned this sitting on beaches in Aruba, drinking mimosas and laughing at all of us crawling through the wreckage they've left us.

Alas, I don't drink on school days. But maybe I should. While I wouldn't understand things any better, at least I wouldn't fret over them so much. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

UFT Executive Board September 14, 2020 Goodbye Evelyn de Jesus, Hello Crazed Pandemic


Roll call 5:50

Minutes--approved via email.

UFT Secretary LeRoy Barr--Thanks us for voting on minutes. Speaks of a vacancy on board. We will take nominations at next meeting, and vote at meeting after that.  Educational VP Evelyn de Jesus was elected to serve as AFT VP, and will do that full time. 

Evelyn de Jesus--Bittersweet moment--I will be stepping down at UFT and will be first Latina as EVP at AFT. Started as para, to teacher, to CL, to DR, to borough rep, and now as VP. God sent me a great team, thanks all for their support. We started education dept. and had ELL conferences and will have a UFT university. We were able to negotiate with the Regents, love the team, proud of years at UFT. We defined who we are and how we want to be with curriculum and learning. We work with everyone and have created alliances with communities, especially Latino communities. Glad union has stood for ELLs. I was one, coming from Puerto Rico. Thanks entire board for allowing me to do work in Puerto Rico. Worked at Al Smith housing project--Smith was known as happy warrior, and that's what we should be. Nothing comes without struggle. Please vote, and tell others to vote. Our democracy is at stake. Please continue to be my co-workers, friends, and gracias. I want to bring what I have in my heart to the nation. Thank you for allowing me to serve.  

Barr--Known Evelyn 20 years, ed. maven, tough negotiator with everyone. She's a connector, brings people together. She watches over projects like a hawk. To me, she's a friend. There's no one you'd rather be in a battle with. As a young man I was in a lot of them, but she's the hardest dude I know. She brings everyhting to the table to get the absolute best of everyone. You're not going far but you'll still have a home here. At some point we will honor you.

Anne Goldman--Well said. You're a friend and a leader I've grown with. Thanks for making us better unionists. I'm honored to call you a friend and I want you to know I'm proud to have worked with you. Rarely can you say these things. Thank you.

Seung Lee--Evelyn has had a long relationship with our school. We've enjoyed our time together.

Arthur Goldstein—I was just sitting in the back of the room at some meeting, minding my own business. Evelyn de Jesus, who I don’t even know, gets right in my face and said look, if you're worried about your ELLs you need to come with me to NYSABE and meet people who care about them. You need to come to Albany with me to tell the commissioner what's going on. Evelyn is all let’s go here and let’s do this. Let’s go to a teacher protest on Long Island. It’s on your way home.

My favorite UFT event is the Puerto Rican Day parade where Evelyn screams at all of us to make sure we give fans and t-shirts and things only to young children and older adults. Evelyn is a person you meet once and never forget. She is a force of nature and I pity the person who stands in her way. Someone will do her job but she can't be replaced. I think I speak for a whole lot of us when I say I wish her well and I will miss her a lot. We're all trying to forget 2020 but we will never forget you.

Good luck in DC and don’t forget us either. 

Sterling Roberson--Congratulations. Met her years ago, call her the closer. Things we couldn't do she made happen. Her advocacy has helped us, but she's all about the members. Congratulations on what you've been able to do, and the things you've helped with. As a friend and colleague, congratulations and keep it up.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew-- Evelyn and I have been talking about this, but kept putting it off. Didn't want to see her go, but was unfair to have her do both things. With problems all over the country it was clear the day had to come. Very sad. Evelyn is like my big sister. When we met I saw her take her shoe off and threaten to hit someone with her heel. Not me. For what she's done, projects she's taken on, standing up for teacher rights, and her love, to protect all the ELLs. She takes that work with her. She's still part of our union. She's taking her work nationwide. All we have is each other, I love you very much, I want to congratulate and thank you. 

This will be a hell of a week. We opened up last week. We had 15,000 members tested week before. We did big push on PPE. Though we have problems we are working through. We have to stay vigilant. Were problems with location. Some principals wouldn't share on campus. Some wouldn't hand it out. 

D75 sites still missing PPE, but a lot has been rectified. 

Ventilation closed ten buildings, 21 schools. We will have to keep watching it. Ventilation is about exchange of fresh air. Both we and an independent company are following this. We have bathrooms without ventilation. 

Will the city live up to the challenge? Union will have to make decisions this week on what strategy. Number of full remote going up--I think city is suppressing it.

Staffing major issue. No posting for virtual content specialist. This makes it even worse. Over weekend we got 500 operational complaints about staffing problems. DOE is facilitating fights rather than making progress. We will move very rapidly to get these complaints done right away. 

You can't have everyone doing in person and remote. Maybe the last person could get that. 

By Saturday there were 26 positive cases of 15K. That is an extremely low rate. But after they lied to us, and after we know they hid things, it's a problem. We've made a lot of noise about it, posted rates, and now finally the city is doing it. But we still have a lag.

If a member has a positive case, we need documentation. If not, we won't have evidence. We want a doctor's note, a lab test or anything. Now the city will have to recognize it under our agreement. DOH is not part of our agreement because they suppressed positive cases in March. Anything with DOH we want nothing to do with. 

There are over 20 specific sites to fasttrack DOE employees. We get the results from them in agreed upon time. We are now getting them back quickly. City has a situation room. They know we aren't stopping.  There is still something going on and we think they are still using DOH to confirm. This violates our agreement. We will not have them deny lab results again. We don't need same idiots from March.

You have to give permission to be live streamed. Chancellor doesn't like it, but supes telling principals to do it anyway. Just one lens and teachers will walk in an out of frame. We are stopping that when we find it.

We had over 550 responses to safety survey by 4 PM. We may need to meet again this week. I think you all know what that means. If a school feels they have a positive test case, if building isn't disinfected and cleaned, we need to say no, we aren't going in. I don't believe most schools can be cleaned and disinfected on nightly basis. City cutting custodian budget. 

If your school is dangerous, sit out. Let DR know. We will help and make sure school gets support it needs.

Questions

Why weren't members getting PPE first day? No confusion. Not on as needed basis. Contact borough rep. PPE is essential safety equipment.

Protocol for notification if day care in building has case--We will get back to you and take care of it. In this case, DOH may have records. We will check. Should be automatic generated letter to all in building, no names. We are seeing it now.

Is union pushing unlimited sick time? If you are diagnosed with Covid or have to be quarantined, it will not come out of your CAR.

Can principal force teacher without accommodation to do in person and remote--Have to be given either or. Perhaps one person in school will get stuck unless breakage, the last person available has to. Can't be done as matter of course.

Mayor announced 2,000 new staff members, redeployment. Everything is taking forever. 

D75 CLs with multiple sites should get reports shortly. Many were finished today. 

Last week many chapters stood strong, did right thing and were well-covered in press.

Such an ugly time, compounded more by wondering what it would be like if we had partners who worked with us. City Hall didn't start working until August. Made things worse.

There are a lot of challenges right now. National election will let us know if there's light at the end of the tunnel. Statewide impending cuts could be very large. Some districts have already started layoffs. In March and April we knew this was about safety and livelihood. We knew protection of our jobs would be a great concern. We have a great plan, but not a great partner in trying to implement it.

We have to figure out a way to do both safety and livelihood. Layoffs would cause damage on multiple levels.  

AP said all teachers working from home were expected to create two google classrooms and contact all parents tomorrow, taking two full loads of different classes. Referred to Mary Jo Ginese and Mike Sill.

Jeff Povalitus--SAVE rooms---can't mix kids from different pods. Will have to think it through.

Mulgrew--Thanks Evelyn for all she's done. Wishes her luck.  UFT will always be your home wherever you go.

Katie K.--Says it's a dark time, but wishes Evelyn well. Honor and joy to try to keep up with you. Love that you lead by example. Glad you will bring advocacy to national level.

Tina Collins--Honor to work with you, but you will be a great asset to national conversation.

Joe C--Worked for three other VPs but you were the best. You will be missed. Wish you all the best.

Shelvy Abrams--Thanks for all the work you've done for paraprofessionals. We will miss you.

Monica P.--Wishes Evelyn all the best.

Janella H--Thrilled you will rep the UFT in work you do across the country. We will see you in the future, happy to see you thrive.

Final roll call--7:03

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Who Makes the Change?

This morning I woke to some comments explaining to me what a terrible person I was, and instructing me precisely which arguments I was prohibited from using in response. I'm not engaging in discussions like that. I'm actively trying to make change in and out of the union. Perhaps there's a better way to do it, and when I find it, I'll use it. The whole self-flagellation thing doesn't work for me, but thanks anyway.

I work with people who support me, people who support those I represent, and I won't come here and throw them under the bus. If you don't like that, I can live with it. If you don't like this blog, read another or start your own. All you have to do is open the blank screen every day and stare at it until the words come out. If you have a more productive way to spend your time, that's fine too.

Perhaps if more of us focused on what we could do, rather than what other people should do, more would get done. Like it or not, I'm already doing what I can do. I'm chapter leader of one of the largest schools in the city, and I haven't kept the job for 12 years by being asleep at the switch. If you want to make a change, run for chapter leader this April. It's a pain in the neck, and frequently all-encompassing, but it's very rewarding. I have no regrets.

I always try to help people who ask, but I don't always succeed. A while back, a member complained to me about something, but didn't want me to share the complaint with anyone. I said, "You can't resolve it if no one knows what it is." The member said absolutely not. I said I would certainly complain, but the member said, "Yes, but you are YOU." I had no comeback for that, except I'd have confronted the issue. I was sure, in fact, the member would face no adverse consequence raising the concern. But I was unable to persuade the member otherwise. Sometimes I'm simply unable to get results.

A week ago, someone wrote me asking about temporary leaves resulting from a federal program. It sounded really interesting. I researched it on the net, and found out what it was. Then I contacted someone I know from UFT. My UFT contact sent me a DOE memo, which I shared with my correspondent. I also shared it with my entire staff and posted it on Facebook, Twitter and this blog. I was pretty surprised to get an angry response from the correspondent suggesting we, the UFT, were keeping this thing a big secret. UFT sucks and is evil. I'm evil. Okay. In fact, the memo was only two days old. Not only had my UFT source shared it with me, but I'd shared it with the questioner immediately. I was pretty surprised the person didn't just say, "Thank you." That's what I would've done. 

Of course the person who wrote me is UFT too. Despite many people writing about UFT in the third person, we're not just Michael Mulgrew. It's me. It's you. And we don't need to all agree on everything. There are a whole lot of us, maybe 100,000 in schools. I don't love our plan to return. Maybe you don't love it either. Is it necessary to go back all remote? That would've been my first choice. Will we be able to teach in person at all under Mayor de Blasio's plan? I'm not at all sure, actually. He's messed up everything at each and every step. The person in charge of it just walked off to work on Maya Wiley's mayoral campaign

Our hybrid model depends on a whole lot of teachers that don't exist. (Hey, it would be great if de Blasio hired another 30,000 teachers, instead of offering to fire 9,000 of us.) I know of one school that's been told by DOE to dump all comp-time jobs, give all teachers five classes, and make all administrators teach two classes. I think all administrators should teach, but other than that, I'm not loving that plan. There still won't be enough teachers to form the impossible hybrid. I'm not persuaded we'll be able to do much more than remote by the 21st.

If I'm wrong, are there risks? Of course there are. Will we come through this unscathed? Probably not. At least 22 members have tested positive before we've even begun. On the bright side, at least we and they now know it. They can seek treatment and make sure not to spread it to others. But be sure to get tested. I had a cough last night, probably because of a ragweed allergy. Still, I canceled a dental appointment this morning, and got tested again. I don't think I have the virus, but I'd rather know before inadvertently sharing it with anyone.

Now I'm not going to tell you that everything is perfect, or that it will be. I woke up one morning thirteen years ago only to have a doctor tell me I had cancer. I didn't expect that at all. Because I'm UFT, I was able to take a medical sabbatical and get paid for six months while undergoing treatment. Now, because we're UFT, we can get accommodations if we want to and qualify. I have one, along with over 100 members from my building. I just got a comment from a NY teacher whose district has something very different.

In my district, no one is allowed to work from home. People with medical accommodations are given things like preferential work locations in district (you get a window!) or extra PPE (n95). 

Not everyone in NYC will seek or get an accommodation,  It appears, thought, as more information comes to the forefront, we will continue to see fewer students opt for face to face learning. About 60% of students in our very large school have opted out, and there are more each day. Meanwhile, we have to check the conditions in the building and make sure they live up to our agreement. Will de Blasio be able to pull that off? Evidence, including Mulgrew's statement last night, suggests otherwise. Can de Blasio effectively monitor 1800 schools? He can't even show up on time for his own press conferences.

This isn't about only you or me. It's about looking at the circumstances and trying to find the best we can possibly do right now. It's about looking at the big picture, and repainting it as best we can. Of course, if you have better ideas, that's great. If you want to lead, you'll have a chance in April. If your chapter leader sucks, if your delegates are asleep, if you don't like the way votes go at the DA, that's fine too. Run and get a position. That's what I did.

Maybe I was crazy to do it. Between that job, teaching, the blog, and other things I do, I'm pretty busy. I like helping people though, and I do it whenever I can. It's more gratifying than you might think, in the long run. I recommend it highly.

Friday, September 11, 2020

De Blasio Suggests Our Lives Don't Matter.

In a summer full of spectacular incompetence and total lack of planning, it's harder and harder for things to stand out, but this suggestion  is really rather startling:

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday that there is no real plan to disclose positive tests because students are not back in school yet.

Wow.  We have 16 positive cases we know of, and there was no plan to let us know about them. It's not important. It's not relevant. Think about that.

In Bill de Blasio's plan, 16 positive cases at square one ought not even to be considered moving forward. I can only suppose the mayor would just as soon have us not know about them. Lack of knowledge is power, perhaps.

I'm always put off by the argument of, "Children first, always," that the DOE used to use as a motto. It always suggested, "We don't give a crap about teachers or working people," to me. That was a flawed motto because the very children we place first would, we very much hoped, grow up to be adults. But de Blasio seems to have taken this statement and added steroids or something.

The fact is we are a substantial sample of the school population, and if the students outnumber us by a factor of about ten to one, you could assume ten times as many cases with students in the buildings. You know, they are human and we are human, even though word may not have reached the mayor. This poses a problem in that humans meeting humans in school buildings did not work well last March. 

How sure is the mayor the virus will spread?

"Of course there will be days where you find a case in a classroom and classroom will have to be shut down, sometimes a school will have to be shut down," he said. "But it’s a temporary reality."

From what I can tell, he's absolutely sure. And he appears to have no problem whatsoever with it. I don't know who's advising the mayor, or whether he listens to his advisors, but I get three messages loud and clear here:

1. It doesn't matter who gets COVID before students are in attendance,

2. No one needs to find out about it, and

3. The mayor is okay with its spread once they arrive.

In the mayor's defense, at least he doesn't bother lying about it. This notwithstanding, it doesn't make him precisely the working class hero he'd like us to think he is. Consider this--if we know of 16 cases, how many do we not know about?  I always wonder about these low percentages. I tested negative for COVID a few weeks ago, but the only reason I got tested was because I had a medical procedure and the doctor made me do it.

How many people are walking around asymptomatic and don't get tested? How many of them are our students? How many people just don't like to see doctors? How many people haven't got medical insurance and have a substantial incentive to avoid them?

The problem with the percentages de Blasio and Cuomo like to trot out is we have no real denominator unless we test everyone. It's good that we're moving in with a plan for aggressive testing, and that's the only reason we know what we know. Had we not pushed the mayor, we wouldn't have even that. De Blasio is all in on opening in ten days, but maybe he should listen to himself and reconsider. 

Also, while I'm not a political advisor or anything, maybe he should think twice before opening his mouth. I'm not at all persuaded he can get away with the sort of crap Donald Trump does.

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

A Hybrid that Works

I was speaking with someone from a Long Island district who described to me what they're doing in his town. Things are easier there, evidently, since they're fairly well to do and they haven't overcrowded the schools to some obscene level. I'm pretty familiar with overcrowding. Our school is at 220% capacity, and the most we can have most students report is once a week.

In the Long Island district, students come in every other day. Teachers give lessons and they are broadcast in real time. Half the students are in the classroom and half are home. Only the students in the classroom on any given day are allowed to ask questions or interact with the teacher. Now I'm not about to jump up and down and declare this is a wonderful system. There are clearly flaws.

The only thing I'll say about it is it's actually practical. You can do it. In that respect, it's superior to the models the DOE has designed. In fact, though we're only two weeks away from students coming in, the DOE is still looking for teachers to cover these programs. It's kind of incredible that the DOE would pay some firm millions to come up with a program that required who knows how many new teachers to make it happen. There are 80,000 teachers around. Why don't they ask us before paying all that cash?

As if that's not enough, the fact is the mayor is looking at the possibility of firing 23,000 city employees, including 9,000 teachers. Why would anyone contemplating layoffs go on a hiring spree? And why would that someone, who's known of this possibility for months, accept a program that requires thousands of new teachers? Your guess is as good as mine.

I know someone who was recently excessed. This person tells me that the same school is now looking for new teachers. How do you excess experienced teachers and then go off looking for subs with no experience? Why couldn't you just use the teacher rather than excess her? Not only that, but even if you excess no one, how can school budgets, especially with cuts in the possible future, handle hiring extra people?

Look, I'm not advocating hybrids of any sort. However, if you're going to plan one, why would you plan one with variables well beyond your control? Why would you set it up to rely on people who don't even exist? And why would you pay a company to provide you with such a plan? I'd pay a company to not provide me with such a plan. 

I'm not familiar with the plan in my home district, being largely focused on NYC. But yesterday I was walking my dog and saw some parents at a bus stop. They told me their kids were going in every other day. Probably we're on the same system I described. What are the down sides?

One bad thing is if you're in the homebound group, you have to sit and watch. You can't ask questions. While this beats the Moskowitz Academy plan, which sounds more like prison than school, I wouldn't want to attend a class where I couldn't ask questions. I wouldn't want my kid, or yours, or anyone's in that class either.

The other bad thing is, if you're in the live classroom, you have to sit socially distanced and masked. This sounds awful to me. Kids are very social and we're dumping them into situations where they can't be. It's unnatural. We're also making teachers bad guys by making them enforce distancing and lack of real exchange. This goes against every instinct I have as a teacher.

On the brighter side, the Long Island system actually functions. I'd say the very best option, until we can crawl out of the COVID, is 100% remote instruction, a whole lot looser than the Moskowitz plan. Still, that's far from ideal. 

We're in a situation where there are simply no good choices. We have to sift through and try to find the least bad one. I really hope we get some better choices, and soon. I didn't sign up for this. None of us did.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Good News!

 BREAKING--DOE principals may now allow teachers without accommodations to do remote teaching from home. Official word is forthcoming.

First Day Back--Fishbowl Teaching


This is so odd. Full disclosure--I have an accommodation and am at home today. I've been at meetings and heard about our school plan. We are lucky in that we aren't using one of the chancellor's insane plans that required 50-100% extra teachers. I'm grateful for that.

But on this first day back, I'm not back. I feel really kind of left out. This bodes ill for my retirement, because I'm not even retired. I attended our BRT meeting virtually while everyone else was in the library. Fortunately, I have a rep in the building who I trust to attend future meetings and keep me in the loop.

Nonetheless, I was the only remote presence in that meeting. Everyone else was in the library. I felt like Klaus the fish in American Dad. I mean, I'm here, but I can't really go anywhere. I was the only person there virtually and not in person.

Now it's not like I'm not doing anything. I'm slammed with email, and I'm able to either answer or find answers to questions. But this is really bizarre. And that's only from the viewpoint of me as chapter leader.

As a teacher, it's going to be even odder. While last year was a shock to the system, it kind of took place with people I knew. That is, when I finally met my classes, I had already known them for over six months. I knew all their names and I knew a little something about each and every one of them. I knew who could and could not take a joke, as well as throw one right back in my face. I knew who was shy and who was outspoken.

I'm not sure I can know students remotely the way I know them in person. I can't just drag students out into the hall and say please do this, or don't do that, or why are you falling asleep, or whatever. I wonder if I'll be able to detect their personalities online. Some students have big personalities that you can't miss under any circumstance.

On the other hand, I work exclusively with students from other countries. Many have been trained almost since birth that the teacher is the authority and you are nobody and therefore you should Keep Your Mouth Shut under any and all circumstances. I usually work through October or November trying to open up these kids. They are my biggest and most enduring challenge. 

I have no idea how I, a fish from American Dad, am going to get through to those kids. My principal, in response to the question how the hell are we gonna do this, says, we'll do the best we can. Well, I'll do that.

I'm just going to add that, while I feel odd not being in the building, I don't believe that in person learning, the way the city has it laid out, would be a significant advantage over remote learning. I keep seeing pictures of children, socially distanced and masked, in miserable school settings. I'd actually prefer to do this remotely. At least they can see my face.

For me, though, and doubtless for everyone else, this is simply bizarre. I can't imagine things settling down any time soon. When I was in high school, I was a voracious reader of science fiction novels.

Now, finally, I'm living in one.

Monday, September 07, 2020

Union 101

It's Labor Day, and we are labor. Yet there's no labor section in the newspaper, online or off. We don't study labor history in school. Worse, a whole lot of members see it as a pair of glasses every other year, and the odd chance to ask the chapter leader why there's no toilet paper.

When we were contemplating a strike, a chapter leader told me, "We’re sending draftees onto the coast of Normandy and they’re in the landing craft asking, “What’s a war?” 

I feel that way sometimes when I try to explain to people exactly what union is, what it does, and what it means. The United Federation of Teachers hasn't been on strike since 1975. I know only a handful of people who were involved. 

I started in 1984 and of course I've never been on strike. Nonetheless I was ready for this one. A member texted me, "I will be a SCAB," with the letters in caps like that. Why? Loss of pay. Inconvenience. As though it were convenient for me, or for anyone. That was antithetical to everything union is and stands for. I could not take that in stride. (Evidently, though, I was expected to.)

My generation of teachers, as well as all those who've followed us, have never really been asked to make a personal sacrifice, e.g. go on strike. This is absolutely dangerous, because there are forces in this country right now that would happily strip us of all our rights, and go out for drinks afterward.

For me, there was no question. I'm ready. You want to penalize me? Penalize me. For others it was tougher. Some people said, "Oh, those young teachers don't know." But I know young teachers who were absolutely ready, and older ones, like the aforementioned, who were not. It's about what you know, what you feel and believe, not how old you are.

Union means coming together as one. It means when a mayor faces one of us, that mayor faces us all. It means that when your principal calls you in to discipline you, there are rules to follow. It means we have help, beginning in the form of a chapter leader, to inform the principal what the rules say. It means the rules will be enforced, though some systems are pretty rickety, and it can take some time. Sometimes we can go above and beyond to figure out ways to deal with that. 

Of course, I don't want to lose pay either. But however you may feel about it, it's union that's largely guaranteed us a rate of pay.We have a contract, for all of us, setting our hours, compensation, and our working conditions. Some states, like Florida and Texas, give individual contracts. Lots of us, maybe most of us, don't know that. There's no such thing as collective bargaining down there. Union there is not the same as union here. 

Of course they had strikes in red states. Conditions are abysmal. There are teachers who have to choose between going to the dentist or buying medicine for their kids. Make no mistake, that's the Trump vision for us. Although they're fighting to get much of what we already have, we can't afford to take it for granted.

What we have didn't come to us by magic. UFT members before us went out on strike to procure our rights. A big right, for us, is collective bargaining. I've heard UFT founders speak of how they gained that in their first strike. We get to sit down with the city and negotiate. This is very different from what teachers have, say, in charter schools. If you want to experience the lack of rights in Florida or Texas while remaining in New York, go work for one. You might get a contract for a year, and then if they don't like you at year's end, you're off looking for another charter. 

The question then comes back to us. How many of us know what Labor Day even means? Sure, it's a trip to the beach, at least when we aren't fighting a pandemic. It's a day off, which is great. But how did we get that day off? How did we get weekends? Why don't we have six-year-olds working in factories anymore? 

We need to know the answers to these and many other questions. We need to have an informed membership. Union activity has to be more than a pissed off comment to your chapter leader or on some blog like this one. You want to blame leadership, fine. But we need to do more than that. Complaining won't help us understand where we came from, and it won't get us where we need to go either.

There's a need for union that stretches well beyond the UFT. And it's kind of on us, as the last bastion of vibrant unionism in these United States, to not only understand our own union, but to improve it, and educate other Americans why they need it too. 

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Like, DUDE, the chancellor can't stop, like, WRITING to us

Dear School-Based Staff,

Like, Blaz and I were out last night, and he’s all like, DUDE, your emails are KILLING it, and I’m all like, yeah man but what am I gonna say NOW? And he’s all, “I hope you found time to rest and recharge and spend time with family and friends this summer,” and I’m all like DUDE if they did that they probably have COVID. And he’s all, well they won’t be in Tweed or City Hall, and I’m like WHEW that’s a relief. So he’s all, like, say, “As always, your health and safety, along with that of our students and families, is our number one priority,” and I’m like DUDE, NO ONE believes that anymore.
 
So like, here’s the frigging calendar, you losers and haters, and like STOP bitching about it already!. Like, you’re all, like TEACHERS and stuff, so, like, the dog ate my frigging homework, okay? So it’s, like six months late but THERE, you have it. And just because you were such a frigging BUMMER, like, there are no more SNOW DAYS, you will frigging teach REMOTELY.

So, like DUDE, you’re gonna have to teach remotely on Election Day too, okay? No more taking four hours off to VOTE, dude, because you’ll be, like, at HOME and stuff. So, like, that’s ONE remote day, and there are like, just 179 more to GO, dude.
 
Second, dude, in partnership with the NYC Department of Health, you know, the ones who failed to close schools with COVID all over the frigging place, we have, like,  established comprehensive health and safety protocols that will ensure you are protected right up to the point we lay off, like, 9,000 of you. These include:
·         Maintain distance of, like, 6 feet from other dudes, and from, like,  students when feasible; when not feasible, like, those are the BREAKS, dude.
·         Regularly wash your hands, dude;
·         Wear some mask thingie; and, like
·         Stay home when sick or after being in close with a person with COVID-19, which could be, like, ANYONE, dude. They kids are, like asymptomatic and stuff.
 
So, like, if you don’t get sick it should support, like, your emotional wellness and stuff. Although COVID-19 like, you know, SUCKS, we need you to, like, keep coming in until you get that pink slip, man.
 
So DUDE, we have to like, TEST you and stuff starting, like, Tuesday, September 8.
 
Daily Health Screening for Staff

 
The NYS Department of Health says you need, like, a health screening (including temperature checks) and like EVERYONE has to do it EVERY FRIGGIN DAY, dude.Because if you DON’T, you, like, can’t come in. We will TRUST you to do this because we’re, like, you know BUSY and stuff, so if you, like:
(a) have a fever, a new cough, new loss of taste or smell or shortness of breath, within the past 10 days;
(b) or if you, like, tested frigging POSITIVE, dude;
(c) or if you were like WITH someone who might be, like if you were in some PUBLIC SCHOOL or something, or if you like,
(d) traveled anywhere or stayed home in the past 14 days.
 
DOE employees can complete the health screening in the following ways: 

 
·         Online Health Screening Tool: You can, like, TELL us if you are sick, man, because we don’t, like JUDGE, dude, or·       
 In-person Health Screening at a Building: If you can’t, like, do it yourself, we’ll have you, like, do a complete a screening assessment in-person at all buildings. We’ll be all, like, ARE YOU SICK, DUDE? and you’ll be all, like, NO MAN EVERYTHING IS COOL.    Administrators and school staff can find hard  (Heh, heh, like, I said HARD, dude) copies and stuff.
The screening results are valid until, like, midnight that day. Then you have to say, like, you did it AGAIN, dude, cause we like, TRUST you on this, dude. We will, like put up SIGNS and stuff, dude, because we’re, like, SERIOUS and stuff.
 
Daily School Site Temperature Checks

 
In addition to at home daily health screenings, the ones we don’t check, we might, like TEST you using non-touch thermometers.
·         We will do this, like, whenever we FEEL like it, so if we MISS somone, we’ll be, like, OOPZIE.We’ll wear, like, MASKS and stuff
·         School-based staff members with a temperature of 100.0°F or higher will have to, like, LEAVE, dude You’ll have to see a doctor and stuff unless we lay you off and cancel your insurance and stuff.
*Please note that we’re not allowed to write any of this stuff DOWN, so we might, you know FORGET.
 
Resources for Staff Wellness

 
In addition to caring for your physical health and safety, we care deeply about your emotional health as well. so you can, like, call, and we’ll be all, “Your call is very important to us, and you can sit on hold until we, like get around to you dude.    Free, voluntary, and confidential services for all DOE employees and their families
o    212-306-7660
·         Hotlines
o    NYC Well – 1-888-NYC-WELL
o    National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-8255
·         Calmcast App for DOE
o    Download from app store
o    Sign in with any username of your choice and school code (DBN)
 
This year will be a bitch, dude, but we are resilient and prepared to welcome you back unless we, like, lay you OFF, dude. Thank you for like, not writing me and stuff. Man, dude, I am, like HUNGRY. Don’t we have any Cheese Doodles or something around this frigging office? Gotta run, dude.
 
In unity,
Richard

Friday, September 04, 2020

FYI--You may be eligible for 2-12 weeks leave at partial pay.

If you have an issue with child care, you may be able to get a 12-week partially paid leave. DOE put out a memo on September 1. You can find it right here.  Here is the DOE application. It's behind a DOE wall, so you need a DOE password. If you don't work for DOE, you can find the federal program right here.

Another Letter from the Chancellor


Dear Colleagues,
 
I know how hard you are all working to ready your schools for fall. I know you are all freaked out from weeks of anxiety over a strike, the result of my gross neglect and indifference. We are right there with you, if you consider my air-conditioned office right there with you. I know you were frightened for your lives last year. I have never seen or experienced anything like it, because you’ve never seen my ass in a school building unless it was a pre-staged photo op with my boss.


This is the most complex start of school we have ever worked on, and I haven’t got the first clue how it will work. I know, we don’t have enough teachers to make my crazy plan workable. I hear you loud and clear. I just don’t care. That’s why I drove you to the brink of the first strike in half a century before I even considered delaying the school year. You still come in on September 8, because screw you. Starting on September 16, you will start doing remote stuff. We don’t know how that will work, because we don’t know how anything works. And believe me, I also speak for the mayor when I say we don’t care either. 


Additionally, beginning October 1 and recurring each month, mandatory testing in schools will be comprised of a random sample of 10-20% of a school's student and staff population. We wanted it to be completely voluntary because we like being accountable for nothing, but we understand that when we screw up, and we will, you will drag our sorry asses to court. If you can find us, that is. 


We have wasted a great deal of your time pushing you toward a strike, and thoroughly ruined the summers of each and every one of you. I look forward to deepening that work in the upcoming school year.
 

Don’t bother writing me back. I can read all about myself on Twitter.
 
In unity,
Richard

Thursday, September 03, 2020

UFT Town Hall September 2, 2020

by special guest Mindy Rosier-Rayburn

UFT President Michael Mulgrew: This is the largest Town Hall we've ever done. This is a very good thing. People are getting on, wanting to hear all this information leading up to Tuesday. Thank you all for being here.

I want to start by thanking you for all we've been through since March.  We made a promise back in April at our first Town Hall. We won't go back until it's safe. What was needed included PPE, face shields, ventilation, deep cleaning, ionization machines, etc, all need to be in place. We wanted an agreed upon procedure for entry, food, etc, and everything had to be worked out.  We needed a mandated testing program and all was looked at by independent medical professionals.

Yesterday,  over 2800 people heard the plan and approved. It became so personal for us as a union. We were hit so hard. Reading names who passed away on exec calls, every weak. Dealing with the craziness that included Spring break which still needs to be dealt with. Remote teaching needed to be worked out. We made it through the school year. NYC was doing better than everybody else. In April we made a pact that we would need certain things to make reopening work and we wanted to plan back then. Nothing in May. Started talking in June to start the process of getting all the equipment and supplies. We got the list together. In July the Mayor gave the green light to get started. We said this would be tough. The Mayor said we didn't need an agreement just go to school. He didn't think we would go back at him.  All those interviews, he was posturing. He didn't take us seriously. We expected to be listened to when there's a problem. We will not be used as a political pawns. Again in July, there was no agreement about going in and nothing was going on. The plans were only fine for places where there were no outbreaks. Was not appropriate at all for NYC.

Then we started to have school based meetings  about what a strike might look like.

We agreed to sit down and we were there to represent you all. Conversation was clear. We both want to open the schools.
This has to be real. We needed everything in our plan. This is a legal document we can go  to court with. No grievances. This is a check and balance. This is something to do where we can act quickly. There were schools back then that didn't shut down that should've.  We are not doing this again. 

You can't just decide to open based on an infection rate. Something we all did in bringing those numbers down. We don't want to go back to that. We presented our plan over a week and a half ago and the Mayor didn't like it. He didn't want it to be about those doctors, or city council, or any of the other advocating groups, he made it about us. Saying teachers need to stand up and do their jobs. Teachers always do their damn jobs. We fought to make sure your child was safe, getting a good education, and protecting them in the communities.

At the Executive Board meeting the other night, we signed on to the strike authorization resolution. We meant business last weekend. Lots of yelling and carrying on. We aren't going back in until everything is met. A strike will happen if necessary. This is ultimately good for the schools and the community.  Monday night, I asked the exec for the authority to vote to bring the authorization vote for a strike to the Delegate Assembly

Yesterday morning at 9:45am, we still weren't done. At 10:15am, we were done. NYC now has the most aggressive plan and safety procedures than in any district in this country.  There are safeguards now in place. Now things can be acted upon within hours. We would be asking for a temporary restraining order.

We heard it all about going on strike with layoffs looming, etc. No one wanted to strike, but we needed to to do this. This is still a bumpy road but we will continue to go forward together. There were tons of meetings, teachers talking to reporters. Everyone was talking everywhere.  We were not going to let March happen again.

Schools are only open to us on Tuesday. That's it. This is serious stuff about understanding how important we are to our kids and families in their communities and how much they think of us and want us to be safe.

We are going to move this forward. First time walking around, I really didn't want to. Looking around you see the impact everywhere. We have each others backs. We are all feeling these things. We have lots of work to do. What we need to do, to keep safe, is all agreement.  Now they're scrambling. If there's no PPE in a school,  they don't open until there is.

We are going into the schools. I am thanking each and every one of those over 100 people checking every school. Those reports will be released on Thursday. We need to know and see everything. Hotline is set up. We will send someone directly to the school building. Either a delivery of PPE or everyone goes home and switches to remote until the school gets it.

There is still so much more work. Ventilation reports are going to the CL's, supplies are being checked, etc. Nothing moves unless all is in place. We need to think it all through.

BRT now has added personnel and they have extra responsibility, in terms of Covid to make sure all supplies are stocked and custodians have what they need. We need to make sure there's a process and procedures to see the nurse, going to the isolation room, to send a child home, set up appointments for a test, etc.

There will be three types of teachers.

Remote only
In Person- in school
Blended Remote Teacher

We need to form a team so that they work together. Lots of tough stuff. Everyone needs to get coordinated in order to be on the same page. This is why we needed time to get things done to plan.

For the week of the 16th. We will be making sure everything is working, set up, and if there's a problem, we need to know right away. This is what we are going to do to get it running.

Mandated testing. We wanted everyone tested. We wanted an ongoing testing system for every school. You all know the symptoms, we know people, but in school we have to be fastidious. The thing is if we did the test at the beginning, tests are only good for three days. This has to be about monitoring so we can keep track. If there's an uptick in a neighborhood, we test more. If we can catch it we can get it down. You get a random sample to be chosen. It's a mandated program. We need permission slips from parents. If they refuse, they can't return. We all need to sign the slip ourselves. All off us.
If you refuse, you'll be placed on a leave because this is serious stuff. But if we are in this together, its got to be everybody. First cycle starts on Sept 27 to Oct 27.

This was not our only challenges. Some people are very happy. All the messages I received. "Thank God we didn't strike."
Others were ready to strike. We are a union. This is the UFT.

We are still facing layoff issues. We got what we needed but there's still lots of work. If a school doesn't have something, they don't open. We can go to Albany or go to court. There are different things we can do.

Layoffs. This is tough stuff. The Federal government failed us, the City is getting the money into the school system but we are not sure how long it will last.

We are on a twisty path. We keep standing there, side by side. We are watching over each other. We don't want anyone to lose their jobs. There were many challenges but safety was number one.

You all need to think about this. Words do nothing to protect anyone if we don't use our rights to make it real in each and every school. I am not naive. There will be challenges. Others will think they know best. This isn't a grievance. You call us. We can only only use this authority if we work together reasonably to look out for each other.

I'd love to say that every school will open on Tuesday, but I don't think that will happen. It's a safety issue. It's not contractual. It has to be done.

This has been the most difficult times we have ever been through. We get to wear the badge that our system got hit harder than anyone else. We fought to close the schools down. They should've closed earlier. We read names every week. This is personal. This isn't their school system. It's the children, the teachers, all of you, the paras who were hit so hard, and all other school staff. Nobody can say we haven't dedicated our lives to the school system. We will work together to keep us all safe. It's in our hands. I'm so sorry for what we all went through. We need to take care of each other and the kids in the city. We are the best. Nobody does it better.

We all have anxiety and fear about going back. We have also gone through challenges and we have always been there for each other. We are the best system on the country

Questions

Q- I'm a para and at the end of June me and other paras were told they might be excessed. No updates yet and no roles yet.

M- If you are working with a child with an IEP. There will be lots of work. We are dramatically short. I don't think they will be excessed

Most who passed away were paras. They work so close with our children. When you go back in on Tuesday, you remember the paras and thank them. The service you supplied, you were dealing with parents, helping teachers, and helping all the kids. There were stories everywhere about you guys going above and beyond. You never know with the DOE stupidity, but we got your back.

Q- Calendar? Retro? Spring Break Days?

M- Calendar is being worked on. There are no concessions. We have been working with the state. We have flexibility in terms of instructional time without it affecting any holidays or breaks.
 

Q- Every school needs evidence of PPE. What is on the list?

M- We have an agreed upon list. CL's have the list. We can just send it out to everyone. We also need to make there's enough supplies. Doctors are frowning upon  bandanas. Has to fit around your nose and mouth. There should be supplies for 30 days. Schools should be supplied weekly. We'll learn after the first week to see what the burn rate is of supplies. We'll see how much they go through PPE.

Q- With a medical accommodation, can we still go to the school to pick up our supplies?

M-We need to find out. Shouldn't be a problem In the beginning. We need to get it set up and talk to the DOE. I think you need your supplies.
 
Q- Instructional based. We are facing a staff shortage.  Every dept is short. Hybrid will be in person and remote for their students. Remote will have 64 kids. Is this correct?

M- No. You can't ignore the DOE guidance. We sent this out. He can't do that. There will be lots of subs. We are still short on special educators.

Q- What is the threshold to recall a strike? What constitutes a strike again if they don't meet our demands?

M- An individual school can simply shut down. Simple process. This is a legal agreement. There would be no need to break the Taylor Law. This will get this things done quickly. School will go remote if the problem isn't dealt with. No need to strike when there's a clear way to protect ourselves.

Q- How will this work with outdoor teaching?

M- Three months ago we looked at teaching outdoors. Being also VP at AFT,  I see nationally what they do and there wasn't really any interest. Now two weeks before we open, leaving it up to principal, get out of here. We will look into it. Some parents are into it. We have to wait and see but our same safety people would be checking the outdoor places. Two weeks before is crazy. Too many safety questions.  Millions of questions.  Not cool at all to do this two weeks before.

Q- If we do go towards layoffs, how will this work?

M- Its citywide reverse senority by title. There was an intense meeting today at city hall and MLC. We  will need borrowing authority. We will work with Albany. Don't want to get anyone crazed over this because we still have so much work to do. But this is problematic. If this moves forward, I will have a conversation with all of you. These are real problems. The Mayor doesn't want to lay anyone off. The employer picks the title and then lays off based on reverse seniority.

Q- D75 concerns

M- D75 is way behind. Not happy at all. I can say that the DOE is just realizing they have a problem. They thought they had it and they didn't. There's a major focus and now a priority. The superintendent says everything was handled and it wasn't. Was very difficult dealing with them. Now we have the authority. We are in those D75 buildings. We are looking at all those buildings. Such a challenging situation for you all.
 
Q- Why isn't there more effort with parents who only want remote? The mayor focused only on in-person.

M- We have had the checklist for months. The procedures and what people need to do was done. Testing was holding us up. We've been telling them since July that over 70% of people will be remote.  Facts are facts. Remote will probably be higher by next week.

What the DOE sent gobble gook. Thirty-six pages of nothing. We need to know; Does it work? How can we coordinate?  Part of the meeting tomorrow will be about this. You control the instructional plan and you are going to blow itt? We figured it out but it would be better if it was figured out better and not by a bunch of idiots in a room who think they know what's going on.

Q- Any buyout updates?

M- Albany is a part of this. This would give savings to the city. We want to work on it. We don't have a date or anything. All unions are working on this. This is what you do when you're in a bind, you look for a buyout for folks.

Q- Teacher planning with blended and remote instruction.

M- There's a new position called an academic specialist. If you're blended, the specialist will load the curriculums, mini lessons, postings, prep work, and assessments into your education platform.
You as a blended teacher, don't have to do that prep work but you have to coordinate daily. There would be small group instruction throughout the day. This is what we have to work through on the school level. Everything will be preloaded onto your platform for the blended world.

Q- Related services. Will there be teletherapy and in-person. What is the expectation?

M- Still working this out with the DOE. You keep your PPE. All depending on the type of therapist you are will base what you'll need. Speech wants a face shield for when kids take off mask for instruction. It is not finished at the moment and we are working with our related service people. It is amazing to me that all we would fight constantly with the DOE about being out of compliance. They would fight to stay out of compliance. Now they are up here demanding compliance.

Q- We got guidance on how many will be tested. What happens with positivd numbers in a school building. Charter has positives, we don't. How does this work? School or building?

M. It's not the school, but everyone in the building. If a charter is part of the DOE, they have to follow the same rules.

Q- Secretary; With respect to everyone on accommodations, my job has expanded and expectations have increased. We are the pillars of the school. When is enough enough? Twenty-two years, I have been here. Anxiety level is high. I'm there every day, more exposed, plus now I have to even more work.

M- I appreciate your question and your school needs to appreciate you. Send this to your district rep. This is why we are having problems with principals because they haven't been given guidance, so they are doing whatever they want in some places. All main offices need plexiglass. Make sure it is in order. It is not contractual. BRT needs to check everything.

Q- Remotely, with medical accommodations,  will I be privy to get all the guides to help me out?

M- There has to be virtual meetings for those remotely.  The education platform is so important. Up and loaded. Do remote teachers need to come to school? No. Because of the large number of remote students, we may need to switch some up. You have access to everything that will be loaded.

Q- Medical Accommodation;  For those granted accommodations, will we be given an opportunity for a renewel or extension?

M- Yes. All you would need to do is go back to the docto with the same kind of documentation.  We will get back to you when the time is coming up. 

Q- Curious how this year will affect observations?

M- Don't know. We haven't figured it out. We know we have to get to this. Hopefully by the end of September

Q- In person, if  I'm forced to quarantine do those days come out of CAR?

M- No. No days are touched due to covid. You are protected. We are one of the few districts who are protected.


Look we have a few days. Labor day is always bittersweet. This will be a different Labor weekend. With the anxiousness and the fear, remember, we are here together. I'll be in the schools too. We did a great job taking care of our kids. Now we need to make sure we are doing everything to be there for each other. This has been personal. In the schools it will be tough, but we will do it. We will watch after each other and we will
 do it when we go in on Tuesday. We have to be on the same page.

Thank you for taking the time to be here. Thank you for everything. Be safe this Labor Day weekend. Deep breath. We will do this. We will have a huge party after Covid is over. Thank you all again and good night.

Recorded Podcast of the Town Hall:

 https://www.uft.org/news/podcasts/town-halls

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

The Big Sell Out

For the last day or so I've been inundated with messages on Twitter that this agreement is a sell out, that we shouldn't have done it, and all sorts of other things. I understand the feeling. I also understand what our asks were, and what we got. I'm not entirely sure all the critics of what we did have that clear.

For the record, I came into this debate wanting only online instruction. I wrote an op-ed in the Daily News back in June saying the hybrid plan made no sense.  I've learned more about it since. For example, we will not be teaching from classrooms and zooming at the same time. Still, I stand by my assessment of the hybrid plan. If anything, it's even worse now that we have this blended learning remote nonsense. This system is poorly thought out, and it will collapse under the weight of its lack of vision.

This said, when UFT made demands, the demands were not, in fact, for all online instruction. I was disappointed. It wasn't what I wanted. The city's hybrid is crap, and students would be better served online. In fact, the conditions under which we're expected to teach are bizarre, unnatural, and likely to depress students more than inspire them. It's particularly egregious since the geniuses at Tweed are demanding that those without accommodations teaching remotely do so from school buildings, many or most of which lack the bandwidth to even support it.

This notwithstanding, I was ready to strike for our demands. I spent hours, days talking to members, writing about plans, meeting with all sorts of people, and worrying about how the hell we were going to carry this off. I wrote an op-ed or two. I spoke with journalists and even appeared on TV a few times. It wasn't what I would've asked for, but I stood behind it. I was ready to walk, and do everything in my power to organize 300 members in my building to join, do social distanced picketing, or whatever it took.

I wasn't the only one who seemed to accept this plan, I didn't see a whole lot of disappointment, for example, from many of the very people who are now screaming bloody murder about the UFT agreement. We planned a strike. The demands were that we have adequate PPE and ventilation, that we had processes in place, and that we had a testing program. It was an interesting moment as a whole lot of people on social media who'd often been in opposition fell into agreement. 

What has changed from our demands to the agreement? Our first two demands were met in full. We fell short on the testing piece. We had asked that everyone be tested before entering, students and adults. I really thought that was a good idea. It seemed we'd get a clean start, at least. However, both Mulgrew and a science teacher I respect have now told me that this would only be the case for about three days, not the ten we'd provided. My science teacher friend explained a lot to me about random sampling, and thinks that's important. 

A lot of people asked for a delay in opening the buildings. What we got is a week or two delay in when students come in. Do we have enough time to prepare? Probably not. The hybrid plan is fundamentally impossible, and no matter how much prep time we have, we cannot create teachers that don't exist, or ensure the good performance of people dragged into situations in which they lack either experience, subject knowledge, or both. 

On the positive side, if your building doesn't have PPE, or if it doesn't have ventilation, it won't open until it's corrected. If your building runs out, or if things stop working, we have a mechanism to close either the affected building or room. I've been through the UFT grievance process a hundred times. It's cumbersome and time-consuming, and you can wait months and get stuck with a troglodyte arbitrator who doesn't know how to read. If we have a clear agreement that's immediately enforceable in court, that's a big improvement. 

Look, you can do what you wish. You can scream at me on Twitter, in the comments here, or both if you like. The fact is, though, that if we'd won every demand as written, we'd still be going back. Maybe the testing would have delayed it more. It would still be scary. Strikes are scary too, and a whole lot of UFT members were scared of that as well. I was too, but I wouldn't have hesitated one moment.

I will have more on how we can better mobilize very soon.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

UFT Delegate Assembly September 1st, 2020--We Approve Agreement with City


UFT President Michael Mulgrew
--Been a long time since March. We made sure our system was shut down. We did all our work with no support or plan, but looked at how we could open safely. It was clear that this had to be our prime priority. We went through something no one else did. We needed a plan that was approved by our independent expert outside medical professionals.  

We also needed more than medical safety. We needed to follow the older CDC guidelines, masks, distancing and cleaning. We also needed a greater voice over individual schools. What happened in March cannot happen again. We can't have individual school leaders making up rules. We needed people at the building monitoring conditions.

We need to know what happens when someone doesn't feel well, goes to bathroom, where we'd place sick people. We said we wouldn't go back without that. No one listened in April at height of pandemic. Mayor didn't pay attention. We kept saying we need these things to go back.

Slowly rate came down because of all our hard work. Then people started talking to us about opening, because it was "safe." Things continued to remain low while virus surged elsewhere. We demanded the same things--medical procedures deemed proper by medical experts, and a list of equipment and supplies, and procedures for things that do happen or might happen.

People said our infection rate was low, but this was personal for us, because of what we went through. People elsewhere may not understand. We promised not to open unless all those things were in place. They thought we were kidding in July. Thankfully, it became more serious, especially when we started to prepare for a strike.

At first they thought it was just a negoitiating strategy and I told them it wasn't. People said it was ludicrous at this time, with pandemic and layoffs, but they didn't go through what we did. So last night's Executive Board and today's DA was to prepare for a strike, though it was a dangerous thing, especially considering economics, but safety was paramount.

Odds were against us in court, but we would've tried that. Over the weekend city realized we were not kidding about this. It was clear schools weren't ready for next week. So we need to deal with that now. Mayor last week said he wouldn't push it back. 

We trained 100 people to inspect over a thousand schools so far. We would've used it in court if we had to. Now we will share it depending on what happens today. We want schools to understand we know when they don't have PPE. Last night I asked EB to allow me to negotiate or let me do a strike vote.

At 9:30 AM, while I was driving to the city, we came to an agreement. Medical experts say we're the afest school system with the right policies. 

The last piece is we all understood trust was broken in March between us and the city. We needed an independent way to have a quick remedy in case policies are not followed at school level. We need immediate fast relief if something is not being followed. We now have that.

Two thirds of this agreement are already in the State Plan. Our checklist is there. Equipment, ventilation, etc. Our folks go in, check the list and look. We send it to our folks and it's not up for debate. If we don't have it, it needs to be here now. We need to make sure procedures are done properly. We have Covid building response teams. Most important committee in school until we get through pandemic. Will design and ensure implementation of all procedures that must take place.

We didn't like DOE training and will start our own on Thursday. 

Start of school year--full instructional day September 21st. 16-18 you will use about an hour for instructional orientation. We will check that they can log on and use different tools. Rest of time is about planning. Safety issue will be huge. Educational and instructional plan will be complex, must be up and running. Instructional materials, scope and sequence, coordination with live and remote. Remote will be 70% of instruction.

We know how much better things can be. We will get to them and drill down on them. 

Mandated testing--Our doctors have been very clear. As science changes, they will give us info. Most important things are masks, social distancing and what you do in buildings. But if someone has symptoms, they shouldn't go to school, if in school they will be isolated.

You need a medical monitoring program. You can monitor and identify asymptomatic people if you do monitoring. If schools act quickly you can isolate or quarantine and avoid big problems inside of school. Face masks, social distancing, cleaning, ventilation and medical monotiring

We wanted to test everyone but our experts said that would only be good for three days. Would've made people feel better but would not be effective. We will have 10-20% of entire building tested on a monthly basis. We have 1700 buildings. Huge undertaking. 

Doctors tell us if under 500 20% 500-100 15% above 1000 10%. This is chosen to get a representative sample, should be adults, different ages and grade levels. We went a step further. What if your neighborhood has an issue? City saw that, flooded zone with testing and got rates down. We got that for our schools too. This will be an important safeguard. 

All of these additional thing are part of an amendment that DOE filed with NYSED for Covid response. Not part of CBA, therefore not subject to regular grievance process. We call DOE if there's no PPE. If not, everyone is out. We will go to court or NYSED. These things have to happen. Not debatable. 

We've been saying this for months. No one took us seriously as our colleagues died. No one took us seriously until we started organizing a strike even as city was sending layoff notices. We made a pact to make sure that everything I described was in place and we had a way to remedy what would happen quickly.

 

I didn't know if we'd get to this moment. I kept reminding people I understood arguments. But this was personal for all of us because of what we went through. And right now we can say that our union has risen up to protect our school system. We have the most aggressive policies and safeguards in this country.

Do we move forward, with this work, doing what we have to do, protecting our safety? I always said it would be the decision of top epidemiologists at Harvard and Northwell. We now say, Tuesday morning, no PPE? You're not going in. That would not be a job action. It would be a legitimate safety issue, and our lawyers are now confident courts would go along with us. We will have things fixed within hours or shut down.

I hope it doesn't come to that. DOE has been trying, but we can't take them at their word. We need this in place, and we now have it. 

I know many of you wrote me you didn't want to strike. It's scary. Turn on the TV and you're frightened. But with this agreement, I know we've done everything we said we were going to do.

I'm putting it before you for questions, and for a vote. Medical professionals and lawyers have approved. We have the power to do what we need to do to stay safe. It's been a long road and I wasn't sure we'd get here. We are at a crossroads and both are rough.

Every UFT member can hold their head high. We are the guardians of our students. Parents also had our back, stood with us saying the mayor is wrong and the teachers are right.

I thank you for all the work you have done. A lot of unions are looking at us and wanting what we have but this wasn't a political battle. It was a personal battle. We wanted NYC done right or we weren't going in.

Questions--

Q--What safeguards will be in place for D75 when students can't wear masks or social distance?

A--We have the most work to do for D75 and 79. DOE did not engage until a week ago when we insisted and they became number one agenda items. They said everything was in place and it was not. We need a lot more PPE in D75. Our private sector nurses have been looking at this challenge for a month. There will be fewer students but many challenges. Procedures at schools and PPE has to be enhanced. 

There are some that need a hospital setting and that will have to be in place. Tomorrow and Thursday we will have intensive meetings about this.Unbelievable that DOE waits to deal with those that need the most support. We looked at this with advice from our medical people. DOE was woefully unprepared. People would have been put in harm's way. Now answers will have to be put in place. Covid response team will reach out to us and we will make sure everything is in place. 

Q--On days we are at PD with no students do remote teachers have to come to building?

A--People with medical accommodation will not. We will have remote teachers without medical accommodation because almost 40% of students are remote. With accommodation everything is from home. Remote teacher without accommodation would come to building on PD days.

Q--School personnel should not be reponsible to clean classrooms.

A--Custodians are responsible for cleaning. This will be a great challenge, because if they aren't able we'll have to tell DOE they can't open school. Ionizers are at schools but there are issues with inappropriate chemicals. That's being worked on. They agreed and are taking care of it. We want to make sure custodians have what they need. Wiping down during school day is a big issue. Covid building team will have to make sure that's in place. 

Q--For Covid building reponse team, are principals in charge? Mine chooses who she wants to do her bidding. I'm a delegate so she never chooses me. We need pushback. Who will make sure PPE is in place? Who chooses team?

A--BRT will have UFT members, chosen by UFT. In terms of checking, reach out to district rep who will reach out to Jeff Povalitus. If they do something not in our agreement, could have building shut down in less than a day. We're not playing, or calling DOE legal. We're going to court. PPE is checked by Covid response team and also by us. We won't stop visiting. We need evidence.

Q--Covid testing--Is it students, staff or both?

A--First month we will get permission slips. There is HIPPA so we need permission slips. First month, September, we will use students only with permission. Next month will be mandatory. If they refuse to test we will then place students on remote. We want to first encourage everyone. We will get the best testing in the city, It will be at or near the school with 48 hour turnaround.  DOE is doing a big outreach, Our testing numbers have been going up, and we have availability. Feds never helped us so we developed a lot of our own capacity, Northwell has developed a lot of testing capacity. CSA is with us on this. 

Our fight with DOE and city hall galvanized a lot of school communities. 

Jeff Povalitus--There are three people in every building response team. They will be safety agent, nurse and custodian. UFT members will be ours to choose.

Q--I'm visually impaired, but have members who've been denied accommodations for disabilities not included in CDC. I have difficulty with social distancing. City isn't helping people who suffer from depression, or live with cancer victims. What is UFT response to this? 

A--On accommodations, they are only for person with medical conditions. I will talk to city about your condition. Any other, not on the list, will not be approved at this time. In terms of family members, we are working on that. I have that issue. Our position is we have to try and figure something out here. We have a lot of students remote and would like to work out something. Can't promise right now. All of our lawyers say law is clear, only goes to person with medical disability.

Q--Are we getting a calendar, and will delay affect it?

A--We are getting it and no.

Q--When will we get results of testing UFT has done?

A--Plan to get it out Thursday. PPE is essential. Without it, schools won't open. We think it will be there. You will look at what else is missing and what else needs to be there. If we go in on Tuesday, there will be no staff meetings in small spaces. That will have to be broken up. If admin needs multiple meetings, so be it. Social distancing at all times. Doctors say face masks and distancing are the most important problems. 

Motion

LeRoy Barr--to authorize UFT President and leadership to safeguard schools and communities and make sure this agreement is followed by DOE and State. (paraphrase)

Joanna Gomez-- for

Noreen--in favor

Peter Lamphere--Offers amendment.

Mulgrew--Can't do amendments at virtual PA

Lamphere--Much mobilizing chapters, worried not enough detail or chance for member input. Only reason de Blasio came to table was strike. We need that organization as safeguard or nothing to prevent him from turning on agreement.  

Ellen ?--Happy to be on call. In favor of agreement, Has relieved anxiety in students and staff. We have a powerful union, a powerful agreement and a strong union. My members are in favor of this agreement. I know schools will do better with UFT supervision.

Mulgrew--Thanks CLs for working in August.

Clara Walker--Have reached out to many staff members. Many members don't feel safe because we have no results.

A--You should have them Thursday.

Elise Ritter--A concern is there's been no trust with DOE. I need to see it in writing and clear for all principals. Some are saying you're only remote if you have accommodation and you have to come in even if you're remote. We need to know Tuesday we don't walk in if filters aren't in place. 

Jennifer Colona--Thank you for hard work, In favor of agreement, Many staff members were happy about the outcome.

Ana Maria Blanco--We have a lot of apprehension because we're worried about staff. Yesterday we weren't ready to go into buildings but today we are. We hope right decision can be made for safety of staff.

Dana Bataglia--All for agreement. One question. Randomly, if we get tested on Tuesday, and someone gets sick on Thursday, what is tracking system?

A--We know you can be tested one day and catch virus three days later. It's going to be what independent doctors recommend.

Rashad Brown--Rises in favor. (unclear)

Laticia Dominich--Votes in favor. Is secretary. Concerned about how secretaries are represented. 

?--Very much in favor, adores it.

Vote--

Passes 82% Yes 17% No

Mulgrew--We have to now make this real. I give you my word, in terms of going to court, union is there, but CL and delegates must make sure this is implemented in school. You have to be safe, you have to follow this plan, and this is no longer up for debate.

Please take some time this weekend, but be proud of what you have done. Our schools will open with most aggressive policies and greatest safeguards. I thank you all.