South Queens Women’s March calls on DOE to protect teachers and students amid spike in COVID cases

First Day of School
Photo by Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

South Queens Women’s March (SQWM) is calling on the city Department of Education (DOE) to act swiftly to protect the lives of its teachers, staff and students, as New York City has seen a record number of new COVID-19 cases.

“Countless community members we know are teachers at NYC DOE schools, including many of our own SQWM members,” SQWM said in a statement. “Classroom spaces have not gotten larger. Class sizes have not gotten smaller. Vaccination rates among younger children are still lagging. Yet, DOE schools remain open.”

SQWM wants the DOE to ensure that all on-site testing sites at schools have an ample supply of tests each day, provide remote options for learning to reduce COVID-risk among staff and students, and require testing and social distancing of six feet between all students and staff. 

DOE teachers are requested, but not required, to get tested on a weekly basis. For those who choose to get tested, COVID-19 testing remains inaccessible, with teachers having to travel distances, wait in long lines and having to find time to get tested outside of working hours, SQWM said. 

According to SQWM, testing kits on site at schools run out each day, forcing staff who want to get tested to find an alternative means of doing so. 

“The DOE continues to exploit the unpaid labor of teachers. Folks are spending hours in lines to avoid exposing our students and co-workers to COVID when the responsibility should be on the DOE to provide regular testing,” a DOE public school teacher and SQWM member said. 

Another SQWM member and teacher said they’re terrified to go to work every day.

“At least two to three more staff members and many students are testing positive or not coming to school each day because they don’t feel safe. I’m having flashbacks of March 2020. It breaks my heart that we have to go to the building every day when we have a mechanism in place for remote learning,” the teacher said. 

As COVID cases surge in New York City and questions are arising about the shutdown of businesses and schools, Mayor Bill de Blasio said there will not be another repeat of March 2020 and that getting vaccinated in the fight against the coronavirus is the key. 

In regards to parents’ concerns about the safety of their children in schools, de Blasio reiterated that schools are one of the safest places to be in the city. 

“We need to keep our kids in school. It is the safest place for them to be. They also need to be in school after all of the disruption. So, no, the key here is to vaccinate. That’s an area where this city needs to do better,” de Blasio said on “The Brian Lehrer Show” on Dec. 17. 

According to the mayor, almost 82% of 12- to 17-year-olds and only 20% of 5- to 11-year-olds are vaccinated. 

“Parents have got to really focus here on the health and safety of not just their child and family, but the whole community, and get their kids vaccinated quickly,” de Blasio said. 

When asked about principals who are reporting staffing shortages at schools due to educators that either have COVID, the flu or the cold, de Blasio said they have “a lot of substitute teachers” who are vaccinated. 

The mayor added that only four out of 1,600 schools are closed because of contact tracing, and that he feels confident in their ability to support schools and students.