Principals' union to Cuomo: Take charge!

Stephon Johnson | 10/1/2020, midnight
The executive board of the principals’ union wants to take control of the city schools out of the mayor’s hands.
School/education Pixabay photo

The executive board of the principals’ union wants to take control of the city schools out of the mayor’s hands.

In a three-page letter sent to New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Council of School Supervisors & Administrators offered a “vote of no confidence” in New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ability to handle his responsibilities with New York public schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During this health crisis, school leaders have lost trust and faith in Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza to support them in their immense efforts and provide them with the guidance and staffing they need,” CSA President Mark Cannizzaro said in a statement. “Quite simply, we believe the City and DOE need help from the State Education Department, and we hope that the mayor soon realizes why this is necessary.”

When asked to comment, de Blasio said on NY1 that he found the no confidence vote to be confusing, stating, “The fact is we have been working with that union…I’m quite confused why they took this action.”

Cuomo himself said it wouldn’t be prudent for him to make a move at this time but that he might at any moment.

“…I get the concern of the principals’ union and we will be watching the numbers very closely,” said Cuomo on Monday, Sept. 28, during a conference call. “And again, I think the concern of the principals’ union is also going to be shared by the teachers’ union and it’s also going to be shared by the parents of the students in New York City schools. If there’s a problem, there’s a problem, and the numbers will show if there’s a problem and then we’ll act accordingly.”

CSA’s letter also accused district superintendents of pressuring principals to lie and say that their staffing needs “are already met after they requested additional staff due to safety concerns.”

In an emailed statement, New York City Department of Education Spokesperson Miranda Barbot said that the city is handling the new normal as well as any city could handle it.

“For the past six months, we’ve worked with our labor partners to navigate completely uncharted waters and accomplish our shared goal of serving students this fall,” said Barbot. “We’ll continue this work to guarantee a safe, healthy and successful opening for all. This week, more kids will be safely sitting in New York City classrooms than in any other major American city—a testament to city leadership and our educators’ commitment to their students, and the importance of in-person education.”

As part of the city’s reopening plan, students in K-5 went back to school on Tuesday, Sept. 29, despite the union claiming there weren’t enough teachers for schools to handle in-person and remote learning. According to the New York City Department of Education, as of Monday, 48% of public school students have chosen remote learning.

CSA members have an ally in New York City Council Member and Education Committee Chair Mark Treyger.

“I stand in solidarity with principals and I’m glad they’re joining me in calling for the Mayor and Chancellor to scrap their flawed reopening plan that fails equity and reality tests,” said Treyger in an emailed statement. “I stand by my school reopening proposal that I issued in July.”

Treyger asserted in his proposed reopening plan, “With limited classroom space, access to in-person instruction should be prioritized for those students whose academic and developmental progress is most dependent on the social environment and consistency of in-person education.” Treyger also recommended that the DOE follow guidelines from the state health department and the Center for Disease Control. He also believes that the city needs more time to get things together.

“The school year should begin later in the fall to allow for the NYC Department of Education and schools to fully plan and program a safe reopening,” Treyger wrote in his proposal. “With ambiguity around federal funding unlikely to be resolved before August, and rising case rates throughout much of the country, New York City would benefit from additional time to plan.”

Some of that planning involves hiring more teachers. De Blasio said he would hire 4,500 teachers who would work in-person and remotely. He told Brian Lehrer that the amount of teachers hired up to this point were enough to begin the next phase of the reopening plan. Another delay in the plan would mark the third one in less than two months.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the United Federation of Teachers said that they looked forward to the city addressing the shortage.

“Since last spring, the UFT has pointed out the need for additional staff if schools were to re-open safely while observing social distancing,” a UFT spokesperson said. “The current agreement is designed to staff the schools in a safe manner, and the city has committed to hiring and redeploying enough qualified educators to meet this challenge.”

However, CSA officials pointed out complaints from principals around the city over staff shortages in their schools. They claimed that de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza’s “grossly irresponsible staffing agreements have left them 1,200 teachers short of the desired number this week.”

This isn’t the first time this year that the CSA and Cannizzaro have gone after how de Blasio and Carranza have handled the school system during the pandemic.

In late August, Cannizzaro wrote a letter criticizing the “blended learning” plan stating that students would allegedly have different teachers, one for remote learning and one for in-person learning. He called the initial reopening date of Sept. 10 “indefensible” and said that the mayor “failed to address many of our crucial concerns and ignored repeated appeals from school leaders to allow enough time to implement highly complicated protocols.”

But the vote of no confidence could be all for naught if the coronavirus has anything to say about it.

On Tuesday, positive COVID test rates reached more than 3%. Part of de Blasio’s school pandemic policy includes automatically closing schools when the rate reaches 3% or more each day for the next 7 days. Almost 1.5% of COVID tests came back positive last Sunday.

If it stays at 3% or above, de Blasio would be forced to close schools and instruct teachers to teach fully remotely.

On Monday, officials at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said that there were significant increases in COVID diagnoses in more than a half-dozen neighborhoods including Gravesend/Homecrest at 6.72%, Midwood (5.53%), Kew Gardens (3.61%), Edgemere/Far Rockaway (3.98%), Borough Park (5.26%), Bensonhurst/Mapleton (5.15%), Gerritsen Beach/Homecrest/Sheepshead Bay (4.05%) and Flatlands/Midwood (4.08%).

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo attributed the increase to specific areas and communities.

“There is an overlap with large Orthodox Jewish communities,” Cuomo said to reporters on Tuesday. “That is a fact, so I will be directly meeting with them to talk about it. This is a public health concern for their community; it’s also a public health concern for surrounding communities.”

Kew Gardens Hills/Pomonok just hit a 3.04% increase in positive COVID cases.

“The City is working with community leaders and community-based organizations to distribute face coverings and combat misinformation,” said the health department in a statement. “On Tuesday, to combat these rising rates, the City will conduct outreach to nonpublic schools about the new guidelines, canvass commercial corridors in these neighborhoods, and use soundtrucks to reinforce COVID-19 guidance and precautions.”

The city’s plan requires the 3% positive rate to be on a 7-day rolling average. If that happens, schools would close. But for now, it’s full speed ahead.

“So, we’ve come such a long way over the past six months. And we would not be here without the hard work of New Yorkers to beat back this disease and the dedication of our entire school system,” said the mayor during a media briefing. “I am deeply grateful for our students and families, teachers, principals and staff for their commitment to each other and this city during this time of crisis.”