NEW YORK — It became clear Monday the city was falling short of its goals to safely and efficiently reopen schools, and chaos and a shutdown in a few weeks would have followed if the start of in-person classes was not delayed a second time, the teachers’ union president said in an NY1 interview Thursday night.
“We started getting a lot of concerns. Our goal was that when we opened last week if we could get most of the stuff completed to a degree that we could really move forward with instructional pieces. And on Monday of this week, it became clear that we were falling short — the city was falling short on a lot of its targets,” United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Michael Mulgrew said in an interview with Inside City Hall Anchor Errol Louis. “My personal judgment was that if we opened the schools on this Monday, completely opened all the schools, it would have been chaotic.”
Mulgrew told NY1 two days ago he wasn’t sure schools would open on time, a prediction that came true Thursday morning. Just four days before in-school learning was slated to start, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced only 3-K, pre-K, and District 75 (special education) classrooms will open for in-person classes Monday as part of the new phased reopening plan.
Instead, kindergarten-through-fifth- and kindergarten-through-eighth-grade schools will open September 29, and middle and high schools will reopen on October 1. Virtual classes will begin Monday for students not returning to schools, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said.
In his interview with Inside City Hall, Mulgrew cited teachers at several schools having to prepare this week outside for the first day of classes because they feared the schools weren’t properly disinfected or lacked personal protective equipment (PPE), or they claimed contact tracing had failed.
It’s not clear if Mulgrew was citing a determination from anyone, such as medical experts, in saying schools would be in danger of closing if in-person classes weren’t delayed. The union leader also did not specify what would be the breaking point for such a move.
There were certainly issues, though. Two schools temporarily shut down due to positive coronavirus cases among education department employees, and more than 50 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 since last Wednesday, when staff reported back to school to prepare for the academic year — although both numbers are tiny compared to the total number of schools and employees in the city.
But some teachers, such as those at P.S. 139 in Flatbush, echoed Mulgrew’s claims that schools had not been properly cleaned and contact tracing was not properly conducted. Mulgrew went as far as to say some special education teachers reported their school was not cleaned since March, when schools shut down, and also lacked PPE.
The breaking point for the reopening plan appeared to be staffing, though. The city announced late Tuesday night that students who opt to return to schools in-person part time will no longer be guaranteed live instruction on the days they learn remotely from home, a last-minute shift aimed at helping alleviate the massive staffing shortage public schools face.
And the mayor — who disputed that assertion schools needed a surge in hires after the city agreed to hire 2,000 extra teachers — acquiesced Thursday. De Blasio said staffing shortages spurred him to delay reopening and bring in another 2,500 teachers.
Teachers and their unions have insisted for weeks there are not enough teachers for the blended learning plan, which sends in-school learners to classrooms about three days a week and remote learners into virtual classrooms. They point out that the plan requires more teachers since an educator cannot teach remote students and in-person students at the same time. Union leaders have estimated the city education department needs 10,000 more teachers to run its blended learning program.
When Louis asked him if staffing shortages would be obstacles again in a few weeks, Mulgrew said the 4,500 teachers are only for 3-K, pre-K, and K-8 students. According to the union boss, more hires will be determined later this week for older students.
Mulgrew also ripped into the city and the education department for their handling of extra support needed for special education students.
“We had met with the Department of Ed. numerous times to discuss District 75. We call it the forgotten district. They always forget about it. They always talk about, ‘Oh yes, this is our most challenging set of students. Of course everything’s going to be there that they need.’ Because they need more PPE,” Mulgrew told NY1. “Some of those teachers are basically working in hospital settings. So they need the gowns, they need the masks, they need the face shields. They need all of that.”
Mulgrew did have hope Thursday: he said the city and education department called and began asking what else they needed to do for special education students.
Did you know you can now watch, read and stay informed with NY1 wherever and whenever you want? Get the new Spectrum News app here.
Watch the full interview above.
Looking for an easy way to learn about the issues affecting New York City?