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NYC teacher's union: Without virus safety standards, keep schools closed

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, said Wednesday that public schools should remain closed amid the pandemic unless union-set safety standards are in place. Credit: AP/Richard Drew

New York City’s largest teachers' union says it wants public schools to stay shuttered absent adherence to union-set standards and mandatory coronavirus testing for anyone allowed into campus buildings.

Under the union’s plans, as many as 750,000 children and adults would need to be tested, either for active infection or antibodies, according to a news release Wednesday from the union, the United Federation of Teachers. The estimate factors in personnel granted exemptions for in-person work due to medical reasons, and families who have opted out of having their children attend in person for any reason.

The city’s first day of school is Sept. 10. Even for those doing in-person learning, in-person attendance will be only a few days a week, with the rest of the time done remotely, due to the need to cap capacity. Families can also opt for all-remote learning and change their mind during the year. The union statement urged parents to exercise the remote-only option until the union’s demands for testing and benchmarks are met. 

The union has sent 100 investigators to check schools for a nurse, six feet of space between student desks, adequate masking and other safety equipment, proper ventilation systems as well as an isolation area for those suspected of infection, according to the release.

“Any school that fails to meet these guidelines should be off-limits to children, parents and teachers until the problems are corrected," union president Michael Mulgrew said in the release.

How and even whether to reopen the schools has bedeviled school systems worldwide, as the desire to reopen so students can socialize, learn and parents can return to work is balanced with the continuing need to halt the spread of the coronavirus that, according to the Johns Hopkins University online counter, has infected 22,233,473 people, killed 783,243, and paralyzed the global economy.

Among the issues at play include whether children can diligently wear masks and maintain social distance, and scientific findings that while children aren’t known to be immediately affected by the virus, some of their nasal secretions contain the virus at up to 100 times those of others, and they can spread the virus to others such as at home.

Around the world, there are school systems that reopened that have needed to shut down due to infections.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, appearing Wednesday afternoon at a Brooklyn elementary school, said of the UFT’s demands: “We’ve been working in good faith with the unions for months. We’re gonna keep working with them — regardless of what they say — because we care more about kids and parents than these games … We are going to keep moving forward to get schools ready for our kids. That’s what the children, the parents, of New York City are asking us to do. That’s our job. That’s our educators’ job, period.”

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