NYC public school start delayed until Sept. 21 as mayor, UFT avert strike

Houston Independent School District Superintendent Richard Carranza, left, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, right, attend a press conference at City Hall, Manhattan, Thursday, March 1, 2018. Mayor de Blasio announced that Carranza will be the new New York City Schools Chancellor less than a week after his first pick for the job announced live on television that he would no longer accept the offer.

City officials announced on Tuesday that in-person classes will be pushed back until Monday, Sept. 21. 

The announcement comes the morning the United Teachers Federation was threatening to hold a strike authorization vote if the city did not delay the reopening of school buildings.

The agreement, reached between the de Blasio administration, the Department of Education, along with the United Federation of Teachers and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, averted a potential job action over the safety of public schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The school year had been scheduled to start on Sept. 10. Now, teachers will be given four preparation days on Sept. 10,11, 14 and 15. Teachers will meet their students during a remote orientation on the 16th through the 18th, according to the Department of Education. But teachers will be required to be in school buildings beginning Sept.8. for blended learning training.

“It’s not going to be easy, but I am very proud to say that we did this at this very moment,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who joined Mayor de Blasio during his daily morning press conference. ” But now it’s up to all of us to be there to support each other, to support our kids and to make sure that we are the ones keeping the largest and best school system open, running and safe.” 

Earlier this month, the UFT threatened to strike or go to court if the city reopened schools without meeting a list of union demands. The union wanted mandatory antibody or COVID-19 tests for all students, teachers and staff planning to enter school buildings to for union representatives to allowed to inspect the status of personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies and ventilation systems in schools. If schools could not be brought up to snuff by the city’s original first day of school, Sept. 10, the union demanded the city delay in-person classes. 

The UFT executive board was scheduled to vote on a strike authorization on Monday. But de Blasio told reporters during his daily morning press conference that he did not think the job action was on the table. Tuesday morning, de Blasio told reporters that city agreed to delay the start of the school year after both the UFT and the principals union, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, expressed concern that teachers and principals did not have enough time to adequately prepare schools for a safe reopening. 

For weeks, Mayor de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza have ignored repeated calls to delay the start of in-person learning from parents and teachers claiming that schools would be equipped with adequate personal protective equipment by Sept.10 and that the city had checked all school ventilation systems. Tuesday’s sudden shift comes after union leaders, including Mulgrew, came out in support of the mayor’s call to Albany to allow him to borrow $5 billion to cover the city’s $ 6.6 billion gap in next year’s budget. 

“We have a huge obligation to get the health and safety part right which is why we have literally set the gold standard,” de Blasio said. ” We have said that New York City is taking the best practices, the strongest methods from all around the world to and applying them here in our public schools.” 

As part of the deal, the city will roll out a “medical monitoring program” beginning Oct. 1 which will involve testing between 10 and 20% of students and school staff at each building at random every month, according to de Blasio’s senior advisor on public health Dr. Jay Varma. The test will be a self-swab test which requires a person to insert a long q-tip into the nose instead of a thin piece of plastic, according to de Blasio. All COVID-19 tests will be free to students and staff and results will be available in 48 hours. 

Parents and guardians will need to provide consent before their child can be tested. If a school has not received parental consent for a student selected for testing that student will be moved to a remote learning cohort, according to a statement from the UFT. Any school staff member that chooses to participate in random testing will be placed on unpaid leave. 

Schools will switch to full remote instruction if the percentage of positive COVID-19 cases in the city reaches 3% or higher using a 7-day rolling average. Any zip code reporting at least 3% positive COVID-19 cases or higher using the same rolling average will receive additional testing and tracing efforts like testing vans,  pop-up testing sites, door-to-door canvassing and robocalls for at least two weeks, according to city officials. 


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