This was in my inbox from UFT Solidarity this evening and already covered by SILive. UFT Solidarity is a caucus not mired in indecision and delay. They are taking action.
My name is Lydia Howrilka and I am a NYC public school teacher, proud union member, and native New Yorker. I represent UFT Solidarity caucus of the United Federation of Teachers; in 2019, UFT Solidarity came in second place in the UFT elections. UFT Solidarity is committed to advocate for all members and improve our profession, to provide oversight and support to members struggling under hostile work conditions, to expose corruption and abuses that negatively affect member working conditions and therefore our communities, and to advance our union.
UFT Solidarity is asking you for your support to oppose the Mayor's reopening plan and to push for a fully remote start to the school year. We truly believe that there is too much at stake at reopening school buildings for in person learning. We have seen terrible instances of spikes of COVID in countries like France and Israel that reopened school buildings after they believed that COVID was being well monitored and managed.
UFT Solidarity has spoken to the media on our stance on the reopening of schools in the NY Post and on Bronx Net TV. Please see the links below:
We additionally have no faith in the leadership of the NYC Schools Chancellor and are calling for his immediate resignation.
We have seen cases across our country of school buildings reopening and seeing both adults and children die. In Arizona, three teachers shared a classroom for summer school; all three of them caught COVID but one did not survive. In central Indiana, state officials opened schools and quickly schools experienced cases of coronavirus. Presently Indiana has 31 positive cases and educators and parents are pressuring officials there to shut down schools. After only one full week of classes, 250 students and teachers from one school have been quarantined in a district north of Atlanta. New York City is the largest school district in the United States. We had the most coronavirus cases in our nation until very recently. I do not want a repeat of what our City and State went through in March and April in the Fall. People will be coming back from vacations through bus terminals and airports; many of them might have had contact with people from coronavirus hotspots and they may spread the virus on public transit. Across NYC, there are areas of higher positive cases of COVID. In Brooklyn, where I work, a number of our students live in East NY and Canarsie which has significantly higher cases of COVID compared to where they go to school in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. We are deeply concerned that the NYC transit will be a vector for spreading the virus from areas of high cases to areas where there is a low positive rate. Our governor and mayor claim that we are ready for school buildings to reopen but if school districts smaller than NYC can have these sudden surges of coronavirus, it is terrifying to think what may happen in NYC if school buildings are allowed to reopen. As an educator, most of my teaching day will be used to remind my students to stay six feet apart from each other, keep their masks on, and to wash their hands. I cannot comfort them when they are having a bad day, they cannot comfort each other. There will be no high-fives, one-armed hugs, and no sharing of materials. I fear that even with all these precautions and my own layers of PPE that I may be an asymptomatic spreader of coronavirus and pass it on to one of my students. That student may live with someone who is elderly or is in poor health. I could not live with myself if one of my students lost a family member because of time they spent in a school building. According to health experts, we know that coronavirus is spread most efficiently through air and that open windows and fresh air is the best defense. In many schools, windows do not open all the way. In my classroom, I only have one window out of five that opens up from the top and the other two windows only open up 2 inches from the bottom. While I have an airconditioning unit in my room, I doubt it has the top-quality air filters that NYS malls are required to have in order to reopen. Many schools have interior classrooms with no ventilation of any kind. Our school budgets have been decimated; how can you expect principals to purchase air purifiers for every single classroom and pay for upgraded Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning [HVAC] systems in their buildings? Schools are also tasked with hiring and retaining custodians. Many schools have had to lay off custodians and the number of custodians we have working during the school day is not adequate to keep frequently touched surfaces clean, bathrooms stocked with soap and towels, and make sure that all faucets work. The president of Local 891 urged his members to “not make promises they cannot keep” and that the plan to reopen schools is full of “unrealistic expectations.” In our opinion, it is unrealistic for the City of NY to make parents these promises that children will be kept safe. According to CNN, "a report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Friday found that Black and Hispanic children are more likely to be hospitalized due to coronavirus than White children. The CDC examined hospitalization records from 14 states and found 576 Covid-19 cases among children who needed hospitalization from March through July 25." According to the NYC Council, 40.6% and 25.5% of the population of NYC public schools are Black and Latinx respectively. My Black and Latinx students should not be treated as guinea pigs by attending school during a pandemic, even if it's only a few days every week. My students’ lives matter to me! If we cannot eat indoors at a restaurant or go to a mall, what makes you think it is safe for us to spend 6-7 hours in a school building with poor HVAC systems, no soap, inadequate access to sinks, no fresh air, and no working windows?
If the City Council, UFT, NYSUT, and the AFT are unable to support us, UFT Solidarity is prepared to pursue legal action to protect the health and safety of our members and the children we care for. Mr. Mulgrew, Mr. Parrota, and Ms. Weingarten-- REPRESENT YOUR MEMBERS! You have the power to file an injunction to stop the reopening of school buildings. You have the power of the purse and the political clout to do this. But if you cannot or will not do this, UFT Solidarity is prepared to do whatever is necessary to protect our students and members. Sincerely yours, Lydia Howrilka Claudia Giordano Odalis Santana Dan Leopold Quinn Zannoni Jay Werner Mayra Victoria John Lawhead Ellen Broody-Kirmss