NYSUT wary ahead of school reopening decision

Buffalo, N.Y. (WBEN)  "Some of the plans sent to the state have not been that good. Some were only two pages long. I believe that some school districts are prepared and I believe some are totally unprepared for this crisis." Andrew Pallotta,  President of New York State United Teachers tells WBEN, he is hearing from his members every hour of every day about the reopening of schools.

"Some teachers say as long as it's safe, they are willing to go back as long as they receive assurances that districts have done what they need to do. Then, there are others who are very, very afraid of going back because they do not feel that all precautions are in place. Many members are calling or emailing, saying they do not believe it's safe to go back," said Pallotta. "We should err on the side of caution. The health and safety of students, staff and families must come first."

Pallotta compares this past Spring, to having a flat tire. "We put on the spare tire. It was remote learning. Everybody knows the best way to educate children is in person, but if this situation doesn't get cleared up, then maybe the best thing, in places that are not ready, is a delay.

Pallotta does not believe, from what he's seeing, that the state is ready to go back.

If Governor Cuomo gives a green light to reopening, and teachers don't agree, Pallotta was asked how far NYSUT is willing to go? "We will be relentless in advocating for our members, especially in districts where they are not satisfied with the plan. Whatever it takes, at this point," said Pallatta.

NYSUT's President says he's looking at having a seat at the negotiating table. But he  also says they have legal recourses that could be brought to bear.  Pallatta points to states like Florida, which is the subject of a major lawsuit by the American Federation of Teachers, because the opening of schools is deemed unsafe with Covid numbers surging.  He adds, "we would not rule out anything."

NYSUT and the UFT (United Federation of Teachers) issued this statement Wednesday:

As the state prepares to make decisions regarding reopening school buildings this week, New York State United Teachers and the United Federation of Teachers today demanded that state health officials issue clear protocols for how and when school districts must close their buildings, and how health officials will perform contact tracing and initiate quarantines in the event of a positive COVID-19 case in a school this fall.

The unions believe that if districts are to move forward with reopening their school buildings, they must err on the side of caution at all times. Specifically, in the event of a positive COVID-19 case, the unions are calling for the immediate closure of that school building and a return to remote learning for 14 days before revisiting whether it is safe for the building to reopen. In addition, the unions are demanding clear statewide directives for how immediate contact tracing is to be conducted and for how mandatory and precautionary quarantining for those who may have been exposed in schools is to be implemented by local health officials.

What’s more, politics must be removed from the equation, as elected officials in some areas seek to take a cavalier approach to how their local schools should reopen by criticizing the need for extreme caution, rather than letting science drive the discussion.

“This is no time to take risks,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said. “If the state allows school buildings to reopen, districts must be prepared to close them in the event of a positive case. But efforts can’t stop there. Clear state guidance is needed to ensure that confusion doesn’t obstruct serious efforts to stop the spread of this virus in our schools and in our communities.”

“There is no room for error,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said. “New York City’s reopening ‘plan’ lacks specifics on what happens if there’s a positive case. The state must step in for the sake of New York City students, educators and families, and those across the state.”

A recent COVID-19 outbreak during summer school programming in the Greenburgh-North Castle Union Free School District in Westchester County highlighted the need for uniform direction for local school and health officials on closure, contact tracing and quarantine procedures. After much initial confusion over closing and quarantining protocols, it’s plain that the local decisions made were inadequate, and clear state guidelines are warranted.

With COVID-19 cases also breaking out at schools in Indiana and Georgia, the unions said there can be no questions in New York about whether clear uniform procedures for re-closing school buildings need to be in place.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s in Westchester County, Indiana, Georgia or anywhere else across this state or country, the threat this virus poses remains obvious,” Pallotta said. “If the reopening of school buildings moves forward, then the entire school community needs clear direction for how to handle a positive case. Nobody can be left in the dark.”

New York State United Teachers has with more than 600,000 members in schools, colleges and healthcare facilities. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.