New York, NY—Ten days into the school year, two pupils and two teachers at the Hunter College Campus Schools have contracted the coronavirus. The union that represents the teachers says that the administration must start deploying enhanced safety protocols, or else it will consider taking another strike authorization vote.
The Professional Staff Congress represents approximately 150 teachers and staff at HCCS, which is a K-12 public education institution that falls under the administration of the City University of New York rather than the Department of Education.
“This is not acceptable. The faculty at HCCS knew all along this summer that the provisions that Hunter was making to keep children separate, to prevent infection were not sufficient,” said PSC’s President Barbara Bowen.
She added that the whole purposes of pods, small learning groups, is being undermined because the pods are intermingling.
“And now what we find is that the pods, the whole purpose of which is to keep people isolated, so that if there is a case, you can trace it to just that one small pod, now we find that the pods are intermingling. The pods are mixing and that means that all the benefit of keeping them isolated has been lost,” she added.
That’s why the union is calling for true pod separation, among a list of other items to strengthen COVID-19 protections at the school. (The complete list is here.).
Lia Albuquerque, a teacher at HCCS, said that she has witnessed the pods intermingling during break time.
“We now have snacks around other grades, everybody without masks, eating, talking, yelling outside for lunch and recess. Sometimes they let the kids take off their masks while playing outside,” said Albuquerque.
The PSC held a press conference one month ago demanding that HCCS’s administration agree to an independent inspection of the campus buildings that had a notoriety of poor ventilation. The administration had refused, so the union filed a restraining order so that the administration couldn’t compel teachers to enter the main building at East 94th Street and Park Avenue until there was an independent inspection by a licensed contractor.
While waiting for word from a judge, the approximately 150 teachers voted to authorize the union’s executive council to call a strike if necessary, as a last resort in case the administration didn’t agree to an independent inspection.
The administration agreed at the last minute to the independent inspection so there was no need to call a strike.
But now the teachers at HCCS may have to authorize another strike vote unless the administration halts classes and closes the school to figure out better safety protocols.
“So, this is the moment to hit pause, close down, figure out what isn’t working and then put in the procedures to make it work,” said Bowen.
The school is expected to be open for classes on Monday morning, which Bowen said is a very, very bad and potentially dangerous mistake.
She hopes that the union doesn’t have to take more drastic action, such as a strike vote.
“We may have to reactivate that conversation with members. I hope we don’t have to,” said Bowen.