Socialist mayoral candidate and public school teacher in Queens Cathy Rojas says, “After this first week of classes, I am concerned for the safety and lives of all education workers and students. Schools opened without having to enforce social distancing guidelines or having proper testing protocols. The DOE had over a year to figure this out, but continues to make last minute unplanned decisions. Less than half of our 1,800 schools had COVID-19 testing this week and over 600 classrooms have fully or partially closed, including the full closure of PS 79 in East Harlem. That’s over 800 students and teachers. Potentially, there’s hundreds more that should be closed but are not simply because we do not know who is infected. We support the UFT in its calls for weekly testing. We also demand quality air ventilation at all sites, protections for workers exposed to COVID-19 and a more inclusive remote option for families and workers.”
As of September 19, the UFT has released a public call to Mayor De Blasio demanding him to reinstate weekly testing for children under 12 and in District 75 schools. Right now, testing is only for a small percentage of unvaccinated students who consent to biweekly testing. The UFT reports, “in the first week of the new school year, fewer than half of our more than 1,800 schools have been tested, and a total of 663 classrooms have been fully or partially closed, including the closing of one entire school.”
During the 2020-21 school year, the UFT fought for and won many workplace protections that benefited workers, students and families, including:
- weekly testing,
- being able to quarantine if you had symptoms and were awaiting test results without losing sick days or personal days,
- being able to take time off to take care of a sick family member infected with COVID-19,
- having a remote option available for staff and families, especially for school and classroom closures.
The 2021-22 school year falls short on school protections for education workers and students. Teachers wonder what happens if their classroom shuts down, families wonder about childcare on the days their child awaits a COVID-19 test result, nurses wonder if they can efficiently contact and trace a large number of students with minimal data.
About 82% of students showed up the first day of school, which is lower than the past average of 90%. This means about 200,000 students did not show up the first day. Given the rapid spread of the Delta variant and no vaccine option for children under 12, families do not trust the lack of safety protocols in schools. Last year, six-feet distancing was enforced in schools and now the Chancellor has reduced it to 3 feet distancing “when possible.”
Students, families and education workers are the only ones directly dealing with the impacts and ramifications of the disconnected decisions of politicians. Politicians are overlooking risks and doing what they need to do to keep buildings open and keep people working to support the bottom line of corporate donors. My campaign refuses to use children, families and education workers as collateral damage in this bulldozing towards ‘normalcy.’ We would all feel safer if our interests were protected and guaranteed, including the right to universal healthcare, unemployment benefits, free public transportation, and rent debt relief.