Teachers union says mayor’s safety standards for reopening schools fall short

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REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) says that the public school reopening plan that Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza have put forth doesn’t make the grade when it comes to keeping students and staff safe this upcoming school year against the novel coronavirus.

The union that represents nearly 200,000 public school teachers and staff launched a petition Tuesday afternoon listing a series of requests that the city must fulfill before it can deem in-person classes safe. De Blasio’s plan calls for a blended model of remote and in-person classes at reduced capacity.

Both the UFT and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators worked with the city to create the reopening plan and the Department of Education’s recently released details on live instruction for remote learners.

The petition posted to change.org has already garnered over 25,000 signatures. In it, the UFT demands that the city implement voluntary COVID-19 testing for all students and school-based staff returning for in-person instruction; rolling testing regiments in every school community to identify those that have been infected; a dedicated group of contact tracers to follow up on those that test positive; and the placement of a school nurse in every school building.

The petition also demands that the city city should ensure that the results of all student and teacher COVID-19 tests be made available within 24 hours. Petitioners also want the city to show proof that it has made good on promises to provide testing; upgrade ventilation systems; provide teachers and staff with personal protective equipment; and deep clean school buildings every night.

“We cannot contemplate the reopening of New York City’s school buildings unless Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan includes these critical health and safety measures,” the petition reads. “To do otherwise would be to put our students, their families an school staff in danger and would risk a citywide resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic.”

City Hall refused to add the extra safety precautions to the school reopening plan during negotiations with the teacher’s union, a source familiar with the situation said.

“The chancellor and mayor have been laser-focused on reopening plans for months, and all decisions are guided by the health and safety of our students and staff. We’re taking this seriously, with a stricter threshold, and more details than other districts in the state,” said de Blasio spokesperson Avery Cohen. “We’ll continue to work arm in arm with our union partners to develop every detail of our reopening plan.”

According to City Hall, during the summer custodial engineers surveyed all buildings and assessed what required ventilation system repairs and modifications needed to be made including equipping schools HVAC systems, upgraded filters from a MERV-8 to MERV-13 classification. In schools without HVAV systems, City Hall pledged to make repairs to windows to ensure that air circulation is appropriate and safe for use.

This story originally appeared on amny.com

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