Following the Chicago Teachers Union's decision to move classes to remote learning earlier this week, some New York City teachers union members are pushing for similar actions in the city amidst a spike in COVID-19 cases amongst their teachers and students.
Progressive factions within the United Federation of Teachers, which represents the most teachers in New York City, have increased their calls for remote learning after the city's Department of Education recorded more than 12,000 new teacher and student cases Monday, according to the New York Post.
Despite new mayor Eric Adams vowing to keep schools open, around 50 school staffers and supporters gathered at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Wednesday to call for a temporary move to remote learning.
The progressive UFT faction The Movement for Rank and File Educators, who attended Wednesday’s protest, has repeatedly blasted both UFT leader Michael Mulgrew and City Hall for failing to protect teachers' interests.
"This is a nightmare," said protest participant and teacher Annie Tan, according to the New York Post. "We're literally sitting ducks. We are trying our best, but we have no staff at our school, combined classrooms. It's not tenable. We can't keep going like this, and the mayor is delusional to think it can continue like this. Hundreds and thousands of students are absent."
"Politicians and Department of Education officials dismiss our concerns about the city's failure to take even the most basic health and safety precautions as the pandemic takes over our city once again," MORE member Will Johnson wrote recently.
Wednesday's protest was notably smaller than those that occurred last year, when teachers protested outside former schools Chancellor Richard Carranza's apartment in Brooklyn and called for a delayed reopening of schools.
"This is a large union," said a union source. "People have to remember that. Sure, you have a lot of groups that make a lot of noise and get likes and retweets. But that's not enough to force a closure or spark a strike. Not even close."
In the first days of the new semester, a union source told the New York Post that around 25 percent of teachers have not appeared in school this week. In addition, a large number of students have been absent, with roughly one in three students failing to appear in class on Monday.
"In a way, we're already in a state of remote learning," said one veteran Brooklyn teacher. "You have a hell of a lot of schools with less than half of their kids coming to class. The only difference is they are at home not doing much of anything instead of having an organized remote learning setup in place."
Mulgrew said that he had asked Adams to temporarily shift to remote learning until staffing levels stabilized, but Adams remained strongly opposed to closing schools.
"We advised the new mayor that it would be safest to allow our school system to go remote temporarily until we could get a handle on the staffing challenges that each school is about to face as we return," Mulgrew wrote last weekend. "However, he feels strongly that schools need to remain open."
"Every school is open today because our Stay Safe, Stay Open plan is working," said DOE spokesman Nathaniel Styer. "It's the most ambitious school opening plan in the country, and it keeps our schools the safest place for New York City kids."
In a speech given earlier this week, Adams stressed the importance of keeping schools open.
"We're really excited about the opening of our schools, and we want to be extremely clear: the safest place for our children is in a school building. And we are going to keep our schools open, and ensure that our children are safe in a safe environment," said Adams, who stressed that keeping kids in school kept them off the streets and away from crime.
"Mulgrew has insinuated that the nation's largest teachers union would more strenuously object to keeping schools operational if conditions worsen," the New York Post reported.
Mulgrew has highlighted the risks associated with staffing shortages, and said that closures would be unavoidable at a certain point.
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