I have been hearing from UFT members today who are worried about going to work tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
This is from a Daily News op-ed written by teacher Monique Dols entitled "Stay home educators, why should teachers criss-cross the city this week?
Would the director of a hospital assemble all of her nurses and doctors in one room to train them on new methods in medicine without any protection right now? I am sure that they would follow the best practices of world health leaders so that they can continue to do their jobs through what is going to be a prolonged crisis. I would presume if they needed to bring together nurses in such a way, they would do so only having taken extreme preventative measures and, if possible, remotely.
Schools have no way to take such precautions. Most of us were just last week figuring out how to teach kids to wash their hands properly. All public school educators should be planning remotely like many private and charter schools are already doing.
We stand in for our students when the whole system has failed them because, let’s face it, we catch everything that our shredded safety net lets fall through.
At the same time, we’ve been at our wit’s end for a long time. And we aren’t going to and shouldn’t have to put our lives and the lives of our communities at risk this time, in this way. By even suggesting this outrageous and reckless idea, de Blasio is delaying any meaningful planning and collaboration between staff another week. We cannot continue to put our communities in danger in this way. Call it whatever you want: A sick out, a strike, or simply following the CDC guidelines. I’ll gladly work from home, but I’m not going in this week, and neither should you.
Here is what Michael Mulgrew said in his Sunday email to members:
Students will not be returning to school this week. School staff will all stay home on Monday. At this moment, the staff will then report to work on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to prepare instructional plans for remote learning for their students during this interval. If that plan should change, we will notify you. On those three days, please observe every precaution on your commute and at school. New York City public schools will then be shuttered from Friday, March 20, through Friday, April 17.
Many UFT members are anxious. President Donald Trump said we should avoid gathering in groups of more than ten. I don't know of too many schools with under ten staff members.
I am not a doctor or lawyer but I was a chapter leader for 18 years. Friends told me they are worried about going to work this week. One said that there were two cases of coronavirus in their school building discovered in the last few days. Here is what I told this teacher and what I would tell anyone concerned about travelling to and from work and working in school buildings.
It is not an illegal strike or an unexcused absence to do what you think is necessary to protect your health in the middle of a pandemic.
UFT members should know the following:
1-Contract Article 16 entitles teachers to ten self-treated sick days per school year. It has not been waived. If you are feeling anxious, then stay home. Losing three days in the sick bank is a very small price to pay. Look at what waiters, taxi drivers, bartenders, etc. are going through. Their livelihoods are being destroyed. We can worry about grieving to get sick bank days back later.
2-If any insane administrator questions someone, I consulted the UFT Chapter Leader Handbook about self-help. Self-help is when an employee is insubordinate by defying an order from a supervisor. Normally, a teacher should obey an order that violates the Contract and then grieve. However, the Handbook provides three justifications for an employee to be insubordinate. Two of them apply to our current situation:
First, the employee has a reasonable belief that carrying out the order will endanger the employee's health.
Second, carrying out the order will threaten the safety of others.
Entering buildings that may have coronavirus would seem to apply to both justifications.
Don't expect the UFT to tell you not to report to work. I commended Mulgrew for strongly condemning the mayor's decision to keep schools open and think it helped lead to the decision to shut them down. However, we have to be very real here. The Union will be overly cautious throughout the crisis because if the leadership encouraged teachers to stay out of the buildings, they are fearful that it would be called a strike and they would lose automatic dues checkoff if the Taylor Law's prohibition against striking was invoked. The Taylor Law will not be invoked in my humble opinion. Nobody will lose two days pay for every day out and UFT won't lose dues. It's a pandemic! Safety first.
UFT members are adults. It's your call. Please use sound reasoning skills in deciding whether to go to work tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday.