Despite Mayor Bill de Blasio’s optimism, New York City schools are still lacking all the cleaning equipment and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and detailed plans needed for a safe reopening, the teachers’ union president said Monday night.
“We have an agreement on certain things that have to be in the schools, but nothing’s actually there yet,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said in an interview with NY1 Anchor Cheryl Wills.
PPE and cleaning equipment will be paramount to a safe 2020-2021 school year. Schools are supposed to be frequently cleaned to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission. And in schools without nurses, students will wait in an isolation room supervised by a designated staffer wearing protective gear, including goggles or a face shield, until a parent or guardian arrives.
Mulgrew hit the city over what he deemed to a lack of concrete policies and details on how individual schools would keep students and staff, something parents have complained about.
The union boss also expressed frustrations over the speed of reopening planning and communications, claiming the UFT was asking the mayor since April to work with it on a reopening plan but he didn’t start to engage until July. Now, Mulgrew has concerns over the tight timeline. The city is weeks away from the start of the school year and plans to reopen are only now being finalized. Last week, the latest proposal was released. It calls for "blended learning," which incorporates in-person and remote instruction. About 736,000 students were in enrolled, as well as 85 percent of all teachers.
But about 586,000 students (or roughly 80 percent of the kids signed up for “blended learning”) were enrolled automatically because their parents did not submit a survey, and retain the right to switch to remote, DOE spokesperson Miranda Barbot confirmed.
As many as 264,000 of New York City public school students opted not to return to classrooms this fall, and only 131,000 parents have openly declared their intention to send kids back to school, officials said.
But on Monday, questions surrounding school nurses were on the forefront of de Blasio's mind. During his daily briefing, he noted that hundreds of nurses are still needed. He said he hoped to find a solution in the coming days.
Ventilation is another issue the city will also have to address, and one for which Mulgrew lobbed criticism at the city. When faced with concerns over ventilation, the mayor would not promise that 100 percent of classrooms would see ventilation upgrades, but he pledged that no unsafe classroom would reopen.
Dr. Jay Varma, de Blasio’s senior health advisor, rushed to assure parents only safe classrooms would reopen, and urged them not to underestimate the value of masks and open windows.
"Ventilation is one piece, an important piece, but not the only piece,” Varma said. "We feel very confident at this moment ... that New York has control of this epidemic.”
But, with an increasing number of hurdles to cross, the United Federation of Teachers is concerned for the health of their members and students.
"We have a long way to go," Mulgrew told NY1. "Many questions about safety and about ‘blended learning’ are still unanswered."
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Watch the full interview above.
Main story file image: Richard Drew/AP.
This story includes reporting by Kathleen Culliton
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