NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday that a deal has been reached with the unions representing educators in New York City and that in-person, blended learning at public schools has been postponed until Sept. 21.
The announcement averted a possible teachers strike.
Schools had originally been set to reopen on Sept. 10.
“I am pleased to report that we have come to an agreement to move forward,” de Blasio said. “We’re here in unity because we worked through the pieces and determined that this was a timeline that could address the outstanding concerns.”
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Sources told CBS2’s Marcia Kramer a number of factors changed the mayor’s mind. For one, not all schools are ready to open. Also, many of de Blasio’s advisers reportedly agreed with the union on the need for mandatory testing, and he needed a good relationship with the unions so they would support his demand that Albany allow him to borrow his way out of his budget crisis.
“It’s a good balance,” de Blasio said.
Currently, 68% of the city’s 1.1 million students will do blended learning, while the rest, about 366,000, will only learn remotely, Kramer reported.
School instruction days will commence on Sept. 16. Sept. 10-15 will be “preparation days” for educators.
“Starting on the the 16th of September, we will have a three-day transitional period, only three days. For those three days, instruction will begin remotely for all students,” the mayor said. “And then on September 21st, Monday, the school buildings open, full strength, we go to blended learning as has been described previously. We have students coming in to the buildings. What would’ve happened on September 10th now happens on September 21st.”
The mayor said that “nothing, nothing replaces in-person learning.”
“There’s a lot of groundwork that’s already been laid, the groundwork for this successful school year. This will strengthen and improve and make it so that we do have the safest start of the school year,” said Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza. “We know this school year is going to be unlike any other school year that we’ve ever had, and we’re excited about tackling these hard, hard issues, but doing it in a way that keeps our students, our staff, and everyone associated with our schools healthy and safe.”
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“We now can say the New York City’s public school system has the most aggressive policies and greatest safeguards of any school system in the United States of America,” said United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew. “We all now understand that we have another difficult road to go down: The amount of work that is going to have to be done over the next couple of weeks just to get our schools prepared and ready to go.”
Carranza said the Department of Education will make sure every school has a 30-day supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), and it will be constantly replenished.
The teachers union had been getting ready to cast a vote to authorize a potential strike over safety concerns.
According to the UFT, New York is the only big-city school system in the U.S. that plans to reopen for in-person teaching in September. As it stands, students will learn five days a week with a choice of a blended learning plan or full remote.
The UFT had been calling for school reopening to be delayed until the city can meet a checklist of safety standards. A major sticking point had been the union’s demand for mandatory testing for teachers and students. According to the agreement, mobile testing labs will visit each school monthly for random testing, Kramer reported.
“We’re going to be assigning percentages somewhere between 10% to 20% to be sampled again, depending on the size of the school,” city senior health advisor Dr. Jay Varma said.
Students will need written parental consent and tests will be done with small Q-tips rather than the standard longer sticks.
Watch Marcia Kramer’s report —
Another concern is proper ventilation. The city says 88% of school buildings have already been inspected for safe air quality.
Laura Hanrahan, a special education teacher in Greenwich Village, is still worried about the 100-year-old school building.
“We don’t have sinks that stay on, we have to hold them to wash our hands,” she told CBS2’s Ali Bauman. “We need the same safety measures in place as any other essential worker.”
The DOE has also approved more than 200 outdoor learning plans, and 324,000 iPads have been passed out to students who need them.
Harlem third grader Ramon Hernandez is excited to start learning in a classroom again.
“It’s more easier to write on paper instead of technology,” he said.
The delayed start to the school year means some parents are scrambling to come up with child care plans.
“It is inconveniencing for many parents because most of them start working already,” Harlem mother Judith Morales said.
“I would love for them to get the opportunity to be around their friends and have that school environment, but it’s still like ahhh, you have to be cautious,” said Bed-Stuy parent Maria Mendez.
With the clock ticking, Mendez is still on the fence about sending her two kids back to elementary school for in-person learning, concerned they’ll contract COVID-19.
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“I feel like we are in a spot when it’s going to hit the most again,” Mendez told CBS2’s John Dias.
The UFT’s possible strike threat drew mixed reactions from New Yorkers.
“People depend on teachers and their status in society. They can’t just strike. They have an obligation to the students,” said Carroll Gardens resident Tony Cornicello.
“I would have to support the teachers’ strike because health is the number one concern,” said Demetrius Laffitte of Brooklyn.
“They know more than anyone else what it’s like to be in the classroom. I trust that they will do the right thing,” said Melanie Lozano of Jersey City.
There are still concerns about schools having enough teachers for both remote and in-class learning, but city officials say they expect to be fully staffed by the 21st. This delay also gives the city more time to hire nurses to staff each school building.
Both the union and mayor continued to stress they will be making sure students wear face masks and social distance when and if they return Monday, Sept. 21.
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