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Sunday, September 6, 2020

COVID-19 Fears Bring Mass Teacher Resignations, Student Protests, and Lawsuits in New York State

What happens when schools open and no one shows up?

Schools get Federal and State funding based upon the "seat time" of students, i.e, the number of students attending class on a daily basis. For this reason, attendance is important.

What happens when there is a pandemic?

Just askin'.

Betsy Combier
Editor, ADVOCATZ Blog

re-posted from National Public Voice:

NY State School Districts' Teachers Want Remote Classes Only; Buffalo Teachers File For Injunction Against In-Classroom Work

Superintendent Scott Martzloff announces the delay of classes for grades 5-12 in
western New York's Williamsville Central School District in a video message.

Western New York school district delays classes after wave of teacher resignations and leaves of absence

(CNN)A school district outside Buffalo, New York, has delayed the start of online-only learning programs for grades 5-12 because of mass staff resignations and leaves of absence, the superintendent announced on Friday.
In a letter to families, Williamsville Central School District Superintendent Scott Martzloff said 90 staff members have taken a leave of absence due to Covid-19 and 111 staff members resigned.
Additionally, 2,361 students opted into online-only learning, including 1,375 middle and high school students, creating more than 80 virtual teacher vacancies, the letter reads.
Due to the reduction in staffing, school will be delayed until further notice for all students grades 5 through 12 in the online-only learning model, Martzloff said.
    Once adequate staffing arrangements are made, the district will notify families of a new start date, Martzloff said in a video posted online.
    Students in the hybrid instructional model or K-4 online-learning only will begin classes on September 8 as originally scheduled, according to the letter.
    Students are not allowed to switch instructional models until after October 1, when they will be allowed to switch once, Martzloff said.
    The school board announced in a letter Saturday that they were unaware of the change for remote learners, and were told on September 2 that was the school was ready to start school on September 8. The board will hold a special online meeting Sunday to discuss the matter further.
    "We sincerely apologize to the families that are impacted by this last-minute decision and we will work with the District to ensure students in grades 5-12 who are in the remote online learning model can start their school year as soon as possible," the letter said.
      The school district's website says it is the largest suburban school district in western New York with a projected 9,919 students enrolled in the 2020-21 school year.
      CNN has reached out to the New York State Department of Education for comment.
      Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore wants a judge to issue an injunction stopping
      the district from forcing teachers to be in the classroom even as students learn from home.
      by Jay Rey, Sep 2, 2020 Updated Sep 3, 2020

      Buffalo Public Schools and its teachers union are headed to court – again – this time over whether the 3,600 Buffalo teachers need to report to school while the students are learning from home.
      The two sides, no strangers to settling their conflicts in the court room, confirmed a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Thursday when they will meet virtually with State Supreme Court Justice Frank A. Sedita III.
      The BTF is hoping the judge will issue a temporary restraining order. That would prevent the district from forcing teachers to work from their classrooms two days a week, during this period of remote instruction, until a full hearing can be conducted on the health and safety concerns being raised by the teachers union.

      At that full hearing, the union would seek a more permanent injunction until the matter could be resolved during the arbitration process, explained BTF President Philip Rumore.

      But arbitration could take months, which would be “disastrous” for the school district and its ability to eventually reopen in-person amid the Covid-19 pandemic when that time comes, said Nathaniel Kuzma, general counsel for the school district.

      “Even in an expedited fashion it will take months,” Kuzma said, “and any hopes to returning students to the school building at all will be significantly diminished.”
      Kuzma on Wednesday pointed the finger squarely at Rumore, the long-time union president. Fighting with the district continues to erode the trust in the city’s education system and drive families away to the private and charter schools, he said.

      “This is Phil. I don’t think this is the majority of teachers,” Kuzma said. “He has been teeing this up from the beginning.”
      The teachers union, which called for a remote start to the school year, has been threatening legal action all summer if teachers are uncomfortable with the district's reopening plan.
      The district announced a couple weeks ago that it would begin the school year Sept. 8 with all students learning from home. It plans to reevaluate the decision four to six weeks after opening day.
      But the district still wants teachers to teach remotely from their classrooms two days a week, understanding some may not be able to do so for health reasons.

      This week, teachers started professional development and are scheduled to set up their classrooms on Friday.

      Rumore, meanwhile, said many schools still lack adequate air filters, and windows don't open in some classrooms in older buildings. He said protocols for testing, temperature screenings and cleaning the buildings are inadequate.
      Rumore pointed to a poll of teachers over the weekend that found 1,866, or 70% of those surveyed, oppose the district's reopening plan and do not think it provides safe conditions in schools. Thirty percent, or 789 teachers, believe that it is safe for them to return to the classroom. There were 2,655 teachers voting, out of about 3,600 teachers, Rumore said.

      The union filed a grievance last week and sought the court’s intervention.

      Krish Shah, a Bronx High School of Science, at his computer in his bedroom in Flushing, Queens. (Photo: Helayne Seidman)
      NYC’s elite students slam Mayor de Blasio’s push for in-school learning
      By Susan EdelmanMelissa Klein and Selim Algar, September 5, 2020

      The city’s smartest students have overwhelmingly rejected Mayor de Blasio’s plan for blended learning, The Post has learned.

      The top scholars, who fill the city’s most prestigious public high schools, are mostly opting to stay home and learn remotely, not trusting plans to keep them safe from coronavirus.

      Bronx Science
      “The measures put in place by the mayor and the chancellor just have not been there,” said Krish Shah, a senior at the Bronx High School of Science. “They haven’t done anything over the summer to show that they can sustain in-person learning without having [COVID-19] cases.”

      Shah, 17, who hopes to study business at an Ivy League college, said he would remain at his Queens home as school gets underway Sept. 21.

      He is among at least 84 percent of Bronx Science’s 2,969 students who chose remote instruction, according to Jerome Kramer, a co-president of the school’s PTA.

      The DOE put the number of remote requests for the school at 63 percent Friday and could not explain the discrepancy.

      At Stuyvesant High School in Lower Manhattan, 71 percent of the school’s nearly 3,400 students will stay home, according to an email sent Monday by the school’s principal. And that number is rising.

      The DOE said 57 percent of Brooklyn Tech’s students had requested fully remote instruction.

      The stay-home rates at the elite high schools are starkly higher than the 37 percent citywide rate of students who have picked remote learning as of Monday.

      Those families have rejected a “blended learning” plan that would put students in their classrooms from one to three days a week and learning online the remainder of the time.
      At Bronx Science, fewer than 500 students could be rattling around the sprawling Bedford Park campus.
      Matthew Ostapenko, 15, a sophomore from Queens, said he chose the remote option because he was told Advanced Placement classes, which could lead to college credit, would not be available under the blended model.
      He said the commute from Rego Park was also a problem because his school bus had been canceled.
      “I was never really comfortable with taking the train … because that’s probably the easiest way to get yourself infected,” he said.
      At Stuyvesant in Lower Manhattan, only 977 pupils have chosen blended learning, a number that fell from 1,065 on Aug. 19, principal Seung Yu wrote.
      But with students only coming in about once a week, just 244 will be in the massive, 10-story building on their designated day. And they won’t even see a teacher. The students will learn remotely within the school, taking classes online as they sit in the gym or auditorium and their teacher is elsewhere in the building, or possibly at home.
      Nearly a quarter of the staff, or 54 people, received approval for a medical accommodation and won’t be coming to the building, Yu wrote.
      “A 10-story building with 3,400 students from literally every single borough and neighborhood in the city is a breeding ground for COVID,” said Julian Giordano, 17, a Stuyvesant senior.
      But he said he would give blended learning a try because he can bike to school from his Upper West Side home, and, as acting president of the Student Union, he wanted to be on campus.
      “I can show up to school on the first day and if I feel like it’s not safe and I feel like it’s not worth it. I can switch back,” he said.
      Bronx Science and Stuyvesant are two of the city’s eight specialized high schools, which require a top score on an entrance exam for admission.
      Umutcan Vargelci, the senior class president at Brooklyn Tech, another specialized high school, said the effort to keep schools open seemed like a waste of resources.
      “They could have just invested all of the money into remote to ensure that people have the technology and the internet access instead of putting lots of students at risk,” he said.
      Still, Vargelci said he picked blended instruction to be on campus as a class officer at the 6,000-student school. But he said he didn’t think the building would be open for long since city rules call for closing a school for at least 24 hours if there are two or more cases of COVID-19 in different classrooms.
      “Especially at big high schools like Brooklyn Tech or Stuyvesant or Bronx Science … it just doesn’t seem feasible that the schools would be able to be open for more than a couple of days without the two-case rule where they have to shut the whole school down,” he said.
      DOE spokeswoman Katie O’Hanlon said, “When we pivoted to remote learning in the fall, it was a herculean task and although the vast majority of students across the city will return to classrooms in the fall, some students and families prefer a remote environment.”
      At top-rated Townsend Harris High School in Queens, Sharon Li, the Student Union president, estimated that half of the 1,300 students including herself had chosen remote learning.
      She said students worried that with blended education, elective classes would be cut because the school needed to spend money to hire more teachers in order to teach both in-person and remotely.
      An editorial in the school newspaper posted Thursday urged all students to select remote instruction in order to maintain the classes.
      Ali Boivab, 17, a Townsend Harris senior and Student Union vice president, opted for online instruction.
      “I don’t understand how an education system that is drenched in structural poverty can suddenly fix all the air vents and horrific sanitary conditions in some schools,” Boivab said. “I don’t trust the mayor’s approach to opening school this fall at all. I think they are trying to do the unthinkable.”

      The Principal of Bronx Science is leaving as well:
      Principal of elite Bronx Science retiring at end of August