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Sunday, June 28, 2020

Six Teachers Ousted From Cobble Hill HS Claim Grade-Fixing Retaliation By Principal

Costas Constantinidis (left) and Anna Marie Mule.

Six NYC teachers ousted in ‘witch hunt’ over alleged grade-fixing
Susan Edelman, NY POST, June 27, 2020
Cobbie Hill High School ousted six of its 34 teachers Friday in a bloodbath staffers called retaliation by Principal Ann Marie Mule over embarrassing leaks involving alleged grade-fixing, The Post has learned.

Several of the teachers who were notified by letter that they had been “placed in excess” previously filed Equal Employment Opportunity and retaliation complaints against Mule.
Some of the booted staffers have also reported alleged grade fraud to the Special Commissioner of Investigation for city schools, saying they were pressured to pass students who did not meet requirements.
“This is clearly retaliation for staffers who stood up against the principal,” one of the removed teachers said. “And it’s sending a warning to the remaining teachers that they’re in danger if they challenge the principal in any way.”
he six teachers — including two Latinos, one Asian and one African-American — received the same letter stating, “I regret to inform you that you have been placed in excess from our school for next year.”
The letter, signed by Acting Principal Costas Constantinidis, instructs the teachers to start looking for jobs elsewhere in the DOE.
Excessed teachers with tenure remain DOE employees. If they are not re-hired by other schools or programs, they go into the Absent Teacher Reserve, a pool of substitutes without permanent jobs.
Mule, the longtime Cobble Hill principal, took a one-year position as a “new principal coach,” but is set to return in July. Staffers say she has kept in touch with school administrators.
“Mule has been on a witch hunt ever since the audio was leaked,” another teacher said, referring to secret recordings of a virtual staff meeting in which Constantinidis said too many students were failing remote classes.
“If a child is engaged, if the child is doing work, but somehow the child doesn’t get it, gives you the wrong answer, but the child is doing something, checking in with you, doing work … I would have passed the child,” Constantinidis said in the meeting.
After The Post aired the audio, Cobble Hill administrators called in faculty members one at a time to quiz them about the leak.
Mayor de Blasio and teachers’ union president Michael Mulgrew have warned that teachers would be excessed due to looming school budget cuts, but none had been announced so far.
DOE officials denied any retaliation by Mule or other Cobble Hill administrators, adding that “no final excessing decisions have been made yet.”
“Those notified of potential excessing are not necessarily officially excessed until school starts in September,” said spokeswoman Danielle Filson.

Betsy Combier
Editor, ADVOCATZ Blog
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Editor, National Public Voice
Editor, NYC Public Voice
Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials 

Give the NYPD More Money So That They Can Reform Their Practices

    Torn down barriers at East 7th street of Caton Avenue in Kensington,
 (Paul Martinka)

Large Numbers of the NYPD Leave Their Jobs After Calls For Defunding Get Louder

Defund the police? This is crazy.

Reform the police? Yes, absolutely. And give the NYPD MORE money for training that meets the ideals of the public in the areas of respect for all, equality, zero tolerance for bias, hate crimes, intentional harm, intimidation, or false claims. Open the records and hold anyone who violates these rules accountable with punishment equal to the crimes they commit, just like anyone else.

Defund the police? No, but make each officer accountable for his/her actions, and Do No Harm unless in danger of being killed with a lethal weapon. Keep all body cams on at all times, have the public give input on what happened. Give the public a voice, hear what people say, act on it.

We were walking our dog down second avenue about two weeks ago at 10:00pm when we saw two cars roll up to the Verizon Wireless store across the street. About 6-8 men rushed out of the cars, ran to the glass windows of the store, broke the glass, entered the store through the broken windows and grabbed all the telephones and other equipment on the walls and on the tables, and then jumped back into the waiting cars and took off. Police were called and there in 4 minutes, blocking off the sidewalk from pedestrians (and their pets) so no one got hurt.

We were glad that they came.

Defund the police? Who takes their place? Where will funding for the newbies come from?

This issue is so hot, our Mayor has no idea what to do:
De Blasio and lawmakers in budget stalemate over NYPD cuts, layoffs
Betsy Combier
Editor, ADVOCATZ Blog
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Editor, National Public Voice
Editor, NYC Public Voice
Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials 

272 uniformed NYPD cops file for retirement after George Floyd death
Dean Balsamini, NY POST, June 27, 2020

Cops are hanging up their handcuffs in huge numbers.
The flurry of Finest farewells began after the police-involved killing of George Floyd on May 25, with 272 uniformed cops putting in retirement papers from then through June 24, the NYPD says.
That’s a 49 percent spike from the 183 officers who filed during the same period last year, according to the department.
An NYPD source suggested the recent departures could signal a coming crisis for the 36,000-member department, which also faces a $1 billion budget reduction amid the “defund the police”  furor.
“We are worried about a surge in attrition reducing our headcount beyond what we can sustain without new recruits, and are afraid the City Council has not taken the surge into account,” he said.
Police Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch said cops are “at their breaking point, whether they have 20 years on the job or only two. We are all asking the same question: ‘How can we keep doing our job in this environment?’ And that is exactly what the anti-cop crowd wants. If we have no cops because no one wants to be a cop, they will have achieved their ultimate goal.”

Ed Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, said an “exodus” from the NYPD has begun. He said nearly 80 of his members have recently filed for retirement, and that morale is “at the lowest levels I’ve seen in 38 years.”
The fiery union leader added, “People have had enough and no longer feel it’s worth risking their personal well-being for a thankless position.”
“There is no leadership, no direction, no training for new policies,” he said. “Department brass is paralyzed (and) too afraid to uphold their sworn oath in fear of losing their jobs. Sadly, the people of this city will soon experience what New York City was like in the 1980s.”
Outrage over Floyd’s death sparked nationwide protests, and some NYPD officers see themselves as collateral damage.
“It’s an all-out war on cops and we have no support,” said one veteran Brooklyn cop, who is retiring next month. “I wanted to wait for my 30th anniversary in October, but the handwriting is on the wall.”
Many men and women in blue are fed up, feeling targeted and frustrated that they are expected to fight crime with fewer tools than ever, while getting no backing from politicians, injured in protests, and constantly scrutinized, according to agitated officers and angry police unions.
The weary rank and file also wonder if one bad decision on the job could get them arrested and charged with a crime.

“If you have your time in and have an opportunity to do something else, get out while you can,” advised Joseph Giacalone, a retired NYPD sergeant and adjunct professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan.
Giacalone said he’d received three emails in “the past week or so” from students asking for advice about changing their career choice. Giacalone said he has not gotten “these kinds” of emails since the Michael Brown killing in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014.
He said he “never discourages anyone” about the job, he just “lays out the pros and cons” and also reminds students there are federal law enforcement jobs.
On Thursday, The Post exclusively reported that Bronx NYPD precinct commander Richard Brea is quitting to protest the department’s handling of police reform and anti-brutality protests. The Deputy Inspector, who led the Bronx’s 46th Precinct, will retire after nearly three decades on the force.

NYPD Sgt. Joseph Imperatrice, founder of Blue Lives Matter, which formed after NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were assassinated in 2014, claims close to a dozen cops per day are putting in their papers. Imperatrice believes the number is “noticeably higher” than usual and due to the “anti-police and anti-criminal accountability” climate.
Imperatrice contends the number of cops leaving the job since the end of March is “approaching the 700 to 1,000 range between COVID and the anti-police narrative.”
“I feel sorry for the cops who just began their career and have 20 years to go,” Imperatrice said. “Morale across the nation for anybody who puts on that uniform is at an all-time low … Officers are showing up to work putting on their uniform and within a few days thereafter being put into handcuffs.”
He said one “fed-up” Manhattan detective, a 22-year-veteran with a wife and kids, is just waiting to hear back about a new job and then he’s putting in his papers and moving to Arizona. He believes the city is “going down the tubes quick and it’s not going to turn around anytime soon.”
Imperatrice said the heartbroken mom of an anti-crime unit cop killed in the line of duty recently contacted him, “beside herself” because the NYPD disbanded the unit and thus “disbanded the legacy of her son.”
“The politicians are spitting in the faces of families of cops killed in the line of duty and now they’re handing over the keys to the city to these criminals. This is insane,” Imperatrice fumed.
“Of course, if a police officer is acting criminal or abusing their authority, they should be held accountable. But the majority of incidents we are seeing do not warrant officers losing their job and being locked up.”
Said John Jay professor Giacalone: “We are living in the Twilight Zone — where the good guys are the bad guys and the bad guys are the good guys. No bail, no jail, selective prosecution — unless you’re a cop, then game on.
“People have lost their collective minds.”
De Blasio’s ‘open streets’ rapidly vanishing, causing fights among neighbors

Thursday, June 25, 2020

UFT Refuses To File Grievances For Teachers After COVID-19 Blunders By The DOE

Throughout New York City there is fear. Fear of the virus- COVID-19, the coronavirus. Fear of strangers. Fear for relatives and family members who have health issues, or are above a certain age. Fear of the unknown and known data. Fear for the future, the future of your own children, your business, employment, going anywhere.

And then there is the scary realization that our New York State and City governments lie to us, and deliberately or at least negligently put our lives and the lives of those we love, in danger. This realization is frightening.

Fear can motivate you or incapacitate you, depending on your personality, culture, social/emotional environment and mix of life experiences/perceptions.

I have found that most educators who teach at the New York City Department of Education are angry at the NYC DOE for what looks like complete disarray and even confusion by the Department as to what to do to fight COVID-19 inside the city's schools and how to do it. The anger is fueled by the realization that lives are at stake. Your life. If, as assumed, you are going to be forced to go into your classroom anytime soon.

Of course, there are avenues to remedies for educators if you don't like what the Department is doing, right?


Teachers are going to the UFT, their Union, to grieve the harm that has taken a toll already on their lives and careers and they are hearing that the UFT will not file a grievance.

This is outrageous.

We are with you, MORE, as you proceed with your PERB complaint and beyond.

Betsy Combier
Editor, ADVOCATZ Blog
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Editor, National Public Voice
Editor, NYC Public Voice
Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials 

Members file improper practice charge vs. UFT for lack of representation during pandemic

After schools finally closed in mid-March, United Federation of Teachers members trying to file grievances about the DOEs mishandling of COVID-19  were shocked to find the union telling them their right to grieve was halted indefinitely.
As a result, more than 200 members who grieved on the grounds that the Department of Education was in violation of UFT contractual provisions on health and safety during the weeks of March 9 and March 16 were prevented by the UFT from pursuing these grievances.
Now, some of these members, including Chapter Leaders at three schools, are filing an improper practice charge against the UFT with the New York State Public Employees Relations Board for violating its duty of fair representation.  The full text of the charge is available here.
By keeping schools open and requiring staff in the buildings until March 19, the DOE endangered the lives of thousands of employees. Over 70 DOE staff have died due to COVID. By preventing members from filing grievances in response to the DOE’s culpability in endangering school-based staff, the UFT is failing to do it’s most basic job—represent its members.
Since the grievances were filed in April, low-level union staff have been telling grievants the grievance process was “paused,” “frozen,” or “in abeyance” until further notice.  This leaves UFT members without any recourse if their rights are violated. The lowest-level union staffers, the District Representatives, have been telling grievants that when the process “reopens,” they may submit their grievances.  This has not been acceptable to grievants, because any delay in handling grievances allows a continuance of abusive treatment.
Equally seriously, grievants are concerned with contractual time limits on how long they have to file grievances. Absent agreement from the Department of Education waiving timeliness restrictions, when the UFT finally resumes handling members’ grievances, the Department of Education can simply deny them as “untimely.”  This is unacceptable.
The charge at PERB is that the UFT has taken away members’ right to grieve, and so at best delaying their chance to correct unfair treatment. Additionally, the claim that grievances will be eventually accepted as timely, without any proof of an agreement on the part of the employer agency, constitutes a lack of good faith and honesty on the UFT’s part.
As we consider reopening plans without a clear Memorandum of Agreement on either remote or blended learning, it is imperative that the UFT restore the grievance process and the DOE waive the timeliness requirement for grievances.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

New Dorp AP Deborah Morse-Cunningham in Trouble For Facebook Comment

New Dorp High School assistant principal Deborah Morse-Cunningham
All educators should be careful about what they post on social media. Speech is not free from consequences.

Betsy Combier,
Editor, ADVOCATZ Blog
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Editor, National Public Voice
Editor, NYC Public Voice
Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials 

DOE to probe Staten Island assistant principal for racially charged Facebook post
, NY POST, June 21, 2020

The city says it’s launching a probe into a Staten Island assistant principal after a racially charged screed against people who wear $200 sneakers while living on public assistance was posted to her Facebook page, The Post has learned.

New Dorp High School assistant principal Deborah Morse-Cunningham will be investigated for the racially charged comment that appeared on her social media account, asking “what is privilege?”
“Privilege is wearing $200 sneakers when you’ve never had a job. Privilege is wearing $300 Beats headphones while living on public assistance,” read the post, which has since been removed.
“Privilege is living in public subsidized housing where you don’t have a water bill, where rising property taxes and rents and energy costs have absolutely no effect on the amount of food you can put on your table,” it adds.
A “concerned parent” saw the post and started an online petition to have Morse-Cunningham removed from her post, where, according to city records, she makes more than $130,000 a year.
“As someone responsible for the tutelage of our youth, this is especially troubling and problematic rhetoric to say the least,” the petition reads, calling the statement “anti-black.”
“This leads me to question what kind of practices she’s instilled in the culture at New Dorp High School, and what kind of environment our children are learning in, especially Black youth,” it adds.
The school’s minority enrollment is 49 percent, but 60 percent of its students are economically disadvantaged, according to U.S. News and World Report.
In a statement, the New York City DOE said the post was reported for investigation.
“The DOE stands against racism and schools must be safe and inclusive learning environments,” press secretary Miranda Barbot said.
“Teachers and staff have a responsibility to uphold those values, and the principal reported this incident for investigation,” Barbot added.

A woman who answered a call placed to a number listed as Morse-Cunningham’s said she didn’t know her.
A New Dorp High School assistant principal is under investigation after she allegedly
made a Facebook post that is being criticized by hundreds of social media users.
 (Staten Island Advance/Jan Somma-Hammel)
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- A New Dorp High School assistant principal is under investigation after she allegedly wrote a now-deleted Facebook post that concerned parents are deeming “anti-Black.”

The Facebook post, allegedly posted by Deborah Morse-Cunningham, an assistant principal at New Dorp High School, is being criticized by hundreds of social media users.

A petition -- which has more than 1,700 signatures as of Sunday evening -- was created by a “concerned parent” calling for her removal from her position at New Dorp High School. The concerned parent said Morse-Cunningham “decided to use her platform and social media presence to post anti-Black messaging during this time,” according to the petition’s description.

“The DOE stands against racism and schools must be safe and inclusive learning environments,” said Miranda Barbot, a spokesperson for the DOE. “Teachers and staff have a responsibility to uphold those values, and the principal reported this incident for investigation.”

The now-deleted Facebook post is circulating on social media via screenshots. The creator of the petition said the alleged post details “vicious stereotypes and racial profiling directed at the Black community.”

“As someone responsible for the tutelage of our youth, this is especially troubling and problematic rhetoric to say the least. This leads me to question what kind of practices she’s instilled in the culture at New Dorp High School, and what kind of environment our children are learning in, especially Black youth,” the petition said.

According to screenshots on social media, the alleged post reads: “Privilege is wearing $300 Beats headphones while living on public assistance. Privilege is having a Smartphone with a Data plan which you receive no bill for. Privilege is living in public subsidized housing where you don’t have a water bill, where rising property taxes and rents and energy costs have absolutely no effect on the amount of food you can put on your table. Privilege is the ability to go march against, and protest against anything that triggers you, without worrying about calling out of work and the consequences that accompany such behavior.”

As of Sunday, Morse-Cunningham’s Facebook page was no longer available, including the Facebook post. An attempt by an Island Advance reporter to reach her by phone on Sunday was unsuccessful.

The alleged Facebook post was made as Black Lives Matter marches are occurring across the United States, including peaceful marches on Staten Island, following the death of George Floyd who died in police custody in Minneapolis. Video showed a cop kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes before his death.
In recent weeks, hundreds of protestors have marched on the NYPD’s 120th Precinct in St. George, the 121st Precinct in Graniteville the 122nd Precinct in New Dorp and the 123rd Precinct in Tottenville, stretching from the southern to northern tip of the borough.


Principal Deirdre DeAngelis sent a letter to parents and guardians about the post, which was shared on New Dorp High School’s website.

“I am writing to you to inform you that we were made aware of a highly inappropriate social media post that was allegedly posted by a school employee,” the letter said.

DeAngelis said in the letter that the matter is being taken very seriously and has been reported to the appropriate investigatory office -- which was confirmed by the DOE.

“We want to assure you that New Dorp High School does not stand for or condone language that promotes intolerance of hatred of any kind. The words contained in the post go against the beliefs and values of our school and do not represent us in any way. New Dorp High School will continue to work extremely hard to establish a supportive, uplifting, and caring community that prides itself on inclusion, understand, and acceptance,” said the letter.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

MORE Caucus Demands That The UFT Files Grievances For Members

The UFT Won’t File Grievances

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The NYC Department of Education Has Failed To Timely Protect Students, Employees, Staff

All’s fine! Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio reassure 
the public as they confirm the first case of Covid-19. 
(David Dee Delgado / Getty Images)

The inconsistent actions to protect residents of New York State and City, political insensitivity to people in nursing homes and schools, and other whimsical acts, will cost both Governor Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor de Blasio plenty. And I mean financially and politically.

No one doubts that Andrew Cuomo, Bill de Blasio, and Richard Carranza will be named Defendants in many lawsuits starting now or soon. The fumble and mumble on future plans for schools and cities in NYC and NYS will have consequences.

I call this e-accountability.

Betsy Combier,
Editor, ADVOCATZ Blog
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Editor, National Public Voice
Editor, NYC Public Voice
Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials 

School’s out: Students depart Stuyvesant High School on March 13, the last day 
before the schools were shut down. (Bebeto Matthews / AP Photo)
How the New York City School System Failed the Test of Covid-19

The city’s leaders bungled the closing of the schools when the coronavirus struck. 
Can they be trusted to reopen them safely?

By Sarah Jaffe, The NATION, 

When Mr. Smith, a teacher at Crotona International High School on the Grace Dodge Campus in the Bronx in New York City, started to feel sick, he thought it might be because he’d been training hard. (Smith is a pseudonym, to protect the teacher from reprisals.) An avid runner, he didn’t at first think that his achiness might be the novel coronavirus he’d been hearing about. That was Monday, March 9.

When he got to school, Smith said, a teacher who “is never absent” was out sick with flu-like symptoms. The next day, Tuesday, that teacher was out sick again, and another teacher wasn’t feeling well and went home early because her daughter was ill, too. On Wednesday that teacher texted her colleagues, “My daughter tested positive.”

“That is when I kind of freaked out,” Smith said. He went to an urgent care center near his house and told the doctors there that a colleague had a child who had tested positive for Covid-19. “Immediately, they put me in an isolation room,” he said. The next day, he got his test result: positive. Yet when he informed school administrators of the news, the school was not closed, he said; rather, the next morning, after school had begun, the administration told the staff that the school would remain open because the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) did not have the case on record; it was self-reported.

“I’m like, ‘Self-reporting? You’ve got to be kidding me,’” Smith said. “‘I sent you a fax that was sent to me with the results directly from the hospital. How are you going to say that this is self-reporting?’ Somebody dropped the ball, and somebody dropped the ball big.”

Nearly three months since Smith took sick, countless other Department of Education employees have fallen ill with Covid-19, and at least 74 have died. They were as young as 29 and came from all five of the city’s boroughs. They include teachers (30), paraprofessionals (28), guidance counselors (2), facilities employees (2), and administrators (2). The disproportionately high number of paraprofessionals killed has raised serious questions about inequalities in the system. Teachers’ aides, said Ms. Jones (also a pseudonym), another teacher at Grace Dodge, “have fewer protections within the school system.”

The DOE began releasing these numbers on April 13, amid mounting pressure from educators and elected officials to share information about the toll of Covid-19 on the school community. The department collected the numbers from reports by educators’ family members, but many teachers said the real number could be larger. As it is, the death toll for education workers has been notably high—though in an early April statement, the DOE, in conjunction with the DOHMH, cautioned against linking coronavirus infections to the school system, saying, “School buildings are not a place of greater exposure than any other part of our city.”

The teachers who spoke with The Nation aren’t so sure. As public health experts have begun publishing analyses of the early days of the US outbreak, raising the possibility that the number of deaths could have been reduced by as much as 50 to 80 percent had governments instituted social distancing a week or two earlier, the question of how many school workers could have been saved has haunted New York City educators. For many, the high number of deaths has served as yet more evidence of the great cost educators have paid for what they consider the city’s drawn-out decision to close the public schools. The deaths, wrote Manhattan teacher Ellen Schweitzer in an e-mail, were “horribly tragic and not surprising. It’s what we knew would happen. It’s what drove us to take the actions necessary to close the schools.”

Now, as the conversation turns to reopening, they 
worry that the same lack of care will characterize any return to the classroom. Their experience thus far leads them to fear that budget cuts from the coronavirus-
related economic crisis will take a bite out of the public schools and leave them overstretched and underprotected.

For teachers like Schweitzer, the first two weeks in March remain fateful, a moment when the DOE could have acted boldly but didn’t. On March 1, the first case was confirmed in New York City; by March 12, the number of confirmed cases in the city had ballooned to 95. During this period, school systems in cities and states that were far less affected—from San Francisco to Philadelphia, from Ohio to Florida—had announced that they would be closing. Nonetheless, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio insisted that New York City schools would remain open. “We are going to do our damnedest to keep the schools open,” he said as late as March 13.

For its part, the DOE continued to broadcast calm, reiterating its protocols for schools in e-mails to teachers and parents. As late as March 10, those protocols, outlined in a letter to families, consisted primarily of “strongly encouraging” handwashing throughout the day and promising to ensure every school building had a nurse, which was not the case before the coronavirus outbreak. The guidelines further stated that each school would be supplied with face masks to give to students and staffers who displayed Covid-19 symptoms. But those masks never materialized, according to Ms. Johnson (also not her real name), another teacher on the Grace Dodge campus.

In a statement to The Nation, the DOE also said it had directed custodians to perform “deep cleaning” of the schools “twice a week.” And it said it had “surveyed both public and non-public schools buildings to ensure they had a sufficient supply of hand soap, paper towels, and anti-viral disinfectant inventory.”

But Johnson said her school didn’t have sufficient supplies. “Finally, when a group of teachers came together to start sanitizing our laptops regularly and our desks regularly, we quickly ran out of Clorox wipes and any materials to do that with,” she said. “There was just such neglect.”

Perhaps most alarming of all to school staffers was the plan for what would happen if a member of a school community got sick with Covid-19. Under New York state guidelines, schools would be closed for 24 hours only after a case had been confirmed by the health department; the problem was, it was almost impossible for anyone to get tested at that point. Even more confounding, as cases clearly mounted in the city, DOE officials sent an internal memo to staffers telling them not to call the DOHMH to report cases of Covid-19 among teachers and staff.

In a response to questions about the memo, the DOE said, “DOHMH and DOE had two-way communication on these issues at all times” and that the department had “escalated” reports of potential cases to “both City and State.” As a result, “there was no need for individuals to call the DOHMH hotline which was set up to handle information from testing labs—we were directly checking.”

Yet as Smith’s case suggests, this process was, if nothing else, slow and cumbersome at a time when every moment counted. While the DOE told The Nation that it “immediately looked into this [case] when it was brought to our attention” and “took steps in accordance with applicable State guidance…and notified the school community” when the positive result was confirmed, that notification did not arrive until Monday evening, March 16; that was four days after Smith got his positive test result. Moreover, the notice went only to staff, teachers said, not the whole school community, which remained in the dark about the test result.

The guidance given to teachers and schools was “nonsensical,” City Councilmember Brad Lander said. One school, which his children had attended, had identified a parent as positive for the virus. “They had a policy that if a student or a teacher was a positive ID’d case, they would close the school for 24 hours and clean it, but if a parent had been positively ID’d—even if the whole family was housed together—then nothing happens. The school is just open. It was totally an incoherent policy. It bore no relationship to the science.”

In a statement to The Nation, DOE spokesperson Miranda Barbot defended the department’s handling of the crisis. “Since the beginning, the Department of Education issued near-daily updates aligned to federal, state, and local guidance that adjusted to the rapidly changing public health landscape,” she wrote. “All of our decisions are informed by public health experts in order to protect the health and safety of our students and staff.”

By the time de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza decided to close the schools on March 15, there was a sense that the city had already fallen behind the curve. But by many accounts, the decision might have been even more delayed, the deaths more numerous, if not for a robust pressure campaign waged both inside and outside the government. On the inside were staffers at the DOHMH, who reportedly threatened to resign, as well as de Blasio’s own advisers, who fought bitterly with him. On the outside were the teachers, whose concern about the city’s failure to act more aggressively to keep educators, students, and their families safe reached a boiling point in the days before the shutdown announcement.

For Smith, that point came shortly after he told the school of his Covid-19 diagnosis and his school’s administration opted to keep the school open. “It wasn’t about me anymore,” he said. “I am 50 years old, but I am pretty healthy. I am a lifelong athlete. Forget about me. I teach 90 kids a week, and those kids are with other teachers. It is my duty to make sure that this does not become worse.”

Smith wasn’t alone. Frustrated with the slow response, rank-and-file teachers began to talk to one another about what they were experiencing, and they came to the same conclusion: They had to do something to pressure elected officials to close the schools.

Schweitzer, who teaches at Stuyvesant High School and came down with symptoms similar to Covid-19’s after the schools closed, recalled that early on there was a sense that even if the virus wasn’t a problem for young people, they could nonetheless be carriers, tracking it from school to home and home to school. “We were very concerned about the health of our more vulnerable colleagues,” she said. “We could all name particular people who work in the school buildings we know have vulnerable health conditions or are older. When you can put a specific name and a face to somebody who is high risk, how do you not do everything you can to try to protect that person?”

From there, the discussion about taking action came together very quickly, Schweitzer said. “There were people, certainly by [March] 10 and 11, who were walking around saying, ‘This is crazy. The schools should be closed.’ As soon as people started talking about it out loud, it was kind of like an emperor’s new clothes thing, like, ‘Yes, why aren’t we? This is ridiculous. Why are we reporting to school in the high-risk environment that we’re in?’”

With little sign of movement from the de Blasio administration, teachers began trying to take their concerns public. One teacher, whose wife is an emergency physician, wrote a piece published in the New York Daily News on March 13; three others cowrote an op-ed published by The New York Times on March 14, all calling for schools to be closed.

The teachers began to use an existing e-mail list for union members to talk to one another; in those conversations, the idea of a sick-out—an unofficial work stoppage in which workers call in sick in an organized fashion—became popular. “You start looking at those exponential graphs, and it becomes really clear that every day is crucial,” Schweitzer said.

Strikes by public employees are banned under New York’s Taylor Law, and although the United Federation of Teachers (UFT)—which represents New York’s 75,000 teachers, 19,000 classroom paraprofessionals, and other education and care workers—called for schools to be closed, the union did not officially endorse plans for a job action. But regardless of that, the teachers were becoming active.

“We were pretty aware that we were going to be in classrooms as long as possible,” said Jones. Despite the promises in the letters to parents that there would be frequent handwashing and a nurse present, she said, “we had to advocate to get soap in the bathrooms because there wasn’t soap in the bathrooms. The school nurse was only there a couple of days a week, even though there is a clinic downstairs.”

By March 13, rumors had begun circulating on the Grace Dodge Campus, where Jones works, that someone had fallen sick. The same was true at schools across the city; according to the mayor, only 68 percent of students showed up that day. “They are really active on social media, and they are highly connected,” Jones said of her students. Parents, too, had begun expressing their anger on social media, using the hashtag #CloseNYCSchools.

Over the weekend, Jones was involved in phone conversations with other teachers, including a call with over 400 educators organized by the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE), a reform caucus in the union that was formed in the wake of the successful 2012 Chicago teachers’ strike. While many MORE members are longtime activists, Schweitzer noted that people “came out of the woodwork” to get involved in pushing for school closure.

“The people who are the regular organizers, obviously, they made it happen,” she said. “But it was also so many rank-and-filers, who hadn’t necessarily been that involved before, just sprang into action seeing that this was urgent, that others needed to step in and take charge and that a sick-out would work.”

Over the weekend, Schweitzer said, teachers started reporting to the city’s automated system for requesting a substitute that they would be absent on Monday; they did so early on so the numbers would be available for officials to see. Even before the planned sick-out, there was an increase in absences that Friday across the system. Finally on Sunday, de Blasio and Carranza announced that the schools would close. The announcement arrived in the late afternoon, leaving parents scrambling to figure out how to navigate the coming week.

In resisting shutting down the schools for as long as he did, de Blasio returned again and again to the idea of equity and his concern that closing them would inflict enormous harm on the city’s millions of vulnerable families. The schools should remain open, he insisted, so that low-income residents and the children of health care providers had somewhere to go during the day—not only a place to learn and be safe but also to receive free meals.

To many teachers, like Jones, this idea made a certain sense. “I know that a lot of people are concerned about getting access to essential services for the most-needy students, and that is a real issue,” she said.

Yet then as now, they wondered what might have happened had the mayor channeled his rightful concern for equity into preparing the system to help the most vulnerable families weather a likely shutdown rather than stubbornly fighting it and, in the process, putting those same students and their families at risk. There was no way, Jones said, that keeping a million students in packed buildings for hours at a time would have been safe, but the buildings could have been used to distribute food and even provide health care. Johnson agreed, saying, “I am not a nurse, but I am happy to hand out food, lunches. Or teach me how to give the swab [for coronavirus testing]. There is a role for us to play rather than acting like we are part of the problem.”

As it was, the transition to the country’s largest experiment in remote learning was bumpy. For Smith, who is healthy once again, remote teaching has been a source of both gratification and frustration. “It is very rewarding,” he said, when students ask how he is doing, and he wants to make sure the students are still learning so it doesn’t worsen what teachers call the summer lag, the loss of learning during summer break.

But of course, online classes in these circumstances are far from normal. “For a lot of us, we are finding it more difficult than going in and just doing our regular job,” said Schweitzer, who when we spoke June 1 was suffering a relapse of what still had not been confirmed as Covid-19. “It seems to be very uneven, by school and by district, exactly what and how much teachers are expected to do and how much they are expected to make the students do. I have some fear about how this is going to be used long term.”

According to the DOE, it has given out 255,000 Internet-enabled iPads in addition to 175,000 school laptops, tablets, and Chromebooks to make sure all students can access remote learning. Yet that process has been incomplete. Only about two-thirds of Jones’s students are able to connect to online classrooms, she said. And even with all the equipment in place, translating real-world education into its remote counterpart has been challenging.

“Online learning is no substitute for classroom learning,” City Councilmember Lander said. Despite the DOE’s impressive if troubled attempt to distribute the necessary technology to students, he said, online learning has exacerbated the existing disparities within the school system. “It is no good for middle-class white students, either, but it also amplifies inequality.”

Teachers didn’t expect the district to be fully prepared to go all online, yet they were still frustrated about how the rollout of online learning went. “We should be able to expect the administration of the DOE to provide helpful guidance and support as we do our jobs,” Schweitzer said. “But sadly, many teachers don’t have much evidence that the DOE does this even under normal circumstances, so while we are angry that leadership has done so little, it’s also not the case that we are really so surprised.”

Now, as the school year comes to a stuttering end, educators face a new set of challenges. There is the looming question of when and how the schools will reopen, and there is the threat of dramatic changes to the education system: In April, Governor Andrew Cuomo promised more education cuts—as much as a 20 percent reduction—and on May 5, he announced that he plans to partner with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to create a new normal for the schools. “The old model of everybody goes and sits in a classroom and the teacher is in front of that classroom and teaches that class and you do that all across the city, all across the state, all these buildings, all these physical classrooms,” Cuomo told reporters. “Why? With all the technology you have?”

New York State United Teachers, the statewide teachers’ union federation, reacted immediately, condemning Cuomo’s plan. “If we want to reimagine education, let’s start with addressing the need for social workers, mental health counselors, school nurses, enriching arts courses, advanced courses and smaller class sizes in school districts across the state,” read a statement from NYSUT president Andy Pallotta.

Yet even as they scramble to respond to this latest attempt at top-down reform, the teachers are in the difficult position of trying to prevent a premature reopening and fighting the imposition of long-term remote learning—which the teachers who spoke with The Nation stressed would be bad for teachers, students, and overstretched parents. Right now, the question of when the city’s schools will reopen remains unanswered. Will students and teachers return to their schools in September and resume traditional classes? Or will they open under some modified program that involves staggered attendance—with students alternating which days of the week they attend—along with temperature checks and other public health protocols? Or will they hold off until the arrival of a vaccine? The DOE told The Nation that it is “considering many options for a successful and safe reopening in the fall and will always follow the guidance of our public health experts.”

At the time this article went to press, the UFT had not endorsed a specific proposal, but it has released a public petition with demands for what reopening schools must include: widespread access to regular testing, temperature checks, rigorous cleaning protocols, protective equipment, and “an exhaustive tracing procedure.” For its part, MORE is calling for a memorandum of agreement around the crisis, laying out clearly what teachers’ responsibilities and rights are in these extraordinary circumstances. “This MOA,” the caucus said in a statement, “could also serve as the basis for future crises, which are only going to become more common as the effects of climate change continue to be unaddressed.” Because teachers’ conditions vary widely from school to school, MORE wants teachers to have discretion over the form their instruction takes, control over their working hours, and relief from the evaluations that make their jobs more difficult.

“I think these kinds of things are more important to attend to than unrealistic fantasies about reopening school buildings,” Schweitzer said. “But of course, everyone is loath to point out the reality that schools can’t be safely reopened for such an indeterminate amount of time.”

The reality of reopening in New York City is a logistical nightmare, Schweitzer noted in an e-mail. “Every time I hear someone talk about spacing students out in the classroom, I roll my eyes for several reasons, but mainly I just think it’s an irrelevant conversation for New York City due to the transit situation…. [I]t is largely a waste of time to imagine ways of keeping us ‘safe and healthy’ in the school building when we have no safe and healthy way of getting to school in the first place,” she said.

But teachers are beginning to have those discussions, she added, to prepare for the battles ahead. Schweitzer wrote, “The question is, what do UFT members overall think—what are they willing to fight for, what are they willing to refuse to do.”

Those questions have taken on even more urgency as protests against police violence and white supremacy have rocked New York. “The collapse of the NYC school system in the face of coronavirus exposes the tremendous pressure our schools were under to pick up the slack of a destroyed social safety net,” said Kevin Prosen, an English teacher at IS 230 in the borough of Queens who is also a UFT delegate and a member of MORE. “Now, with the NYPD mobilizing their multibillion-dollar annual budget to counter protests against police brutality and no doubt attacking some of our students, the priorities of our liberal city and state governments are there for everyone to see. There is no way out of this that doesn’t include redirecting major parts of the police budget to schools and other social services.”

As this article went to press, MORE was working on a health justice agenda for the schools, based on three tenets: anti-racism, public health, and full funding for education. The aim, said Marilena Marchetti, an occupational therapist at a number of Brooklyn schools and a member of the team working on the agenda, was to consolidate the values of the broad movement for education justice, involving not just UFT members but also parent, student, and community groups around the city. “We cannot go back to the way things were, with conditions that allow for the bare minimum, simply surviving. Once the dust settles from this unforeseen yet totally predictable trauma, we want more from schools. We want every school to be a place where students truly thrive,” she said. “The fact is, that will require a redistribution of wealth and taxing the rich. We’re here for that, we’re fighting for that.”