Queens high school pleads with DOE to approve hiring of additional teachers

Photo by William Artuso

Benjamin N. Cardozo High School, one of the largest public schools in Queens, is pleading with the Department of Education (DOE) to approve the hiring of 13 teachers to instruct 65 classes for the upcoming school year.

Teachers of the Bayside high school, located at 57-00 223rd St., held a rally outside of the school on Thursday, Sept. 17, to call on the DOE to address their staffing needs before the start of the school year, which was set for Sept. 21 after it was delayed from Sept. 10. They were joined by State Senator John Liu and Councilman Barry Grodenchik.

The rally was arranged before Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the start date for in-person schooling will again be delayed.

Photo by William Artuso

The city will roll out a phased-in approach for students who opted to return to hybrid in-person classes.

Only students in Pre-K, 3-K and district 75 schools (which serves the city’s disabled students), will return to buildings on Sept. 21. Students in K-5 and K-8 grade schools will now return to buildings on Tuesday, Sept. 29. Middle, high school, secondary, transfer and adult education students will go back to their physical classrooms on Oct. 1.

That gives the DOE two more weeks to address Cardozo and several other schools in New York City’s staffing needs.

Principals and education advocates have warned the city that the current plan for a hybrid in-person and remote learning format will lead to staffing shortages.

Cardozo school’s UFT representative Dino Sferrazza told QNS that while it’s great they have more time to plan for a return to school, the city had six months to plan.

“Our teachers are dying to get back into the classroom, but we don’t want them coming back until it’s safe,” said Sferrazza. “Until they figure out proper air filtration, distancing, and staffing, we won’t be safe.”

Photo by William Artuso

Sferrazza said Cardozo was approved for an alternative model that actually helps them coordinate their classes with less teachers, with a blend of in-person, remote and live instruction.

“Had we chosen their hybrid model, then we’d be short around 70 teachers,” Sferrazza said.

He said the school appealed their budget to allow them to hire additional teachers at the end of June, but have not received an answer from the DOE. The school appealed for additional staff because of the number of employees working remotely due to reasonable accommodations and students opting in to blended learning.

Cardozo currently has 3,591 students enrolled and just under 200 teachers.

Teacher staffing is only one of their worries, though. Teachers are also concerned about students without tech at home, the WiFi capability at the school and having to share a room with fellow teachers during live instructions due to classroom ventilation.

Liu called for a delay in school reopening in-person classes altogether amid confusion of remote learning.

“Widespread confusion about scheduling, software and other on-line tools, staffing assignments, and parental assistance has created chaotic situations that will take time to resolve,” Liu wrote in a letter to de Blasio. “Clear illustration of this is the Department of Education’s sudden announcement yesterday that students opting for blended in-person and remote-learning instruction will not actually receive all of their remote-learning in real-time, contrary to previous assurances by the DOE to parents who might otherwise have opted for remote-only instruction.”

Photo by William Artuso

The latest DOE data shows more than 40 percent of public schools families have opted for fully remote learning.

On Thursday, the city promised to hire 2,600 additional District 75 (which serves the city’s disabled students), early childhood, K-5 and K-8 educators, in addition to the 2,000 redeployed staff previously announced.

“Our staff have shown tremendous patience and leadership, and today’s announcement means we’re going to work with schools to add even more resources and support,” DOE Spokesperson Nathaniel Styer told QNS. “With a citywide infection rate hovering at 1 percent, we’re the safety major city in the country and we owe it to our students to reopen.”

Councilman Grodenchick told QNS that while the city is undergoing a budget crisis, the divisive plans for returning to school is on de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza. He said like parents, elected officials haven’t received information about school reopening.

“I don’t think they were ready. I understand it’s unprecedented times, but it’s been six months now since the pandemic began,” said Grodenchick. “Excuse the pun, but it’s obvious we haven’t done our homework.”

Grodenchik said he’s heard from principals and parents in his district as well as other neighboring districts who are experiencing Cardozo’s staffing shortage.

“People have been talking about this for weeks, if not months. Cardozo is perhaps the most extreme, but it’s a common issue in other schools … there are many schools with double digits number of need,” he said.

When asked if City Council can step in to allocate funds from the city budget for more teachers, Grodenchik said they’re doing their best to ameliorate the situation.

“I really believe our children and parents deserve better,” he said. “Education is the most important thing our government provides. It’s the bedrock of our democracy, and right now we’re failing.”

This story first appeared on our sister publication qns.com.