By the New York State United Teachers
As school districts grapple with the effects of the coronavirus statewide, New York State United Teachers is urging local officials to ensure the needs of students, staff and families are fairly and adequately met in the event of a school closure.
“Amid this public health crisis, we all have a role to play in helping to stem the spread of coronavirus and in ensuring that every child is fully supported in the event of school closures,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said. “It’s critical that school administrators and educators are in constant communication about the right ways to keep the school community safe and healthy as we carry out our mission: educating New York’s children.”
NYSUT believes it is important that such communication is happening on a district-by-district basis, so each school’s unique needs can be met. Those local conversations should touch not only on health and safety, but also on how critical services – ranging from free breakfast and lunch programs to child care to mental health services – would continue to be provided for students if a school closure is necessary.
At the state level, NYSUT has expressed concerns to the state Education Department regarding the use of online learning in particular in the event of a school closure, especially for young children and in areas where students may not have access to the technology or internet connection needed to take classes online. Concerns also include whether school districts have the proper infrastructure to provide online learning.
Alternatives could include printed lessons, such as textbook reading and worksheets. Parents and guardians also are encouraged to take time to do educational activities with their children, similar to what the union suggests for students during summer vacation.
Union officials will remain in contact with the NYSED to ensure any statewide guidance is developed with this digital divide in mind.
“As schools take steps to keep students and adults healthy – which is the top priority – equity must be at the forefront when coming up with education plans,” NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene T. DiBrango said. “While online learning may work for some students, many students will be left behind because they don’t have access to the right software or internet connections. Administrators must include educators in conversations about what practices could work best in their district.”
With many schools remaining open at this time, NYSUT urges local union leaders to encourage their districts to take basic precautionary steps, including:
•Establishing a separate room or area at each school, close to the nurse’s office, for use by nursing staff specifically for students who have flu-like symptoms;
•Providing additional staff to assist with coverage of the nurse’s offices and custodial staff to aid with cleaning where needed;
•Conducting additional cleaning and use of disinfectants on hard services at all schools;
•Ensuring soap dispensers and towel dispensers in all restrooms throughout the district are not empty; and
•Scheduling additional cleaning of school buses in accordance with new cleaning guidelines for school buildings.
In addition, NYSUT continues to urge all members to follow best practices to ensure the health of their students, colleagues and families, including:
•Staying home if they are ill;
•Frequently washing hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or applying an alcohol-based hand sanitizer;
•Coughing and sneezing into the shirtsleeve, not the hands;
•Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces, such as door handles; and
•Avoiding touching of the eyes, nose and mouth.
NYSUT has published an online coronavirus toolkit that includes the latest guidance from the state departments of Health and Education, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and NYSUT’s national affiliate unions the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association. That toolkit can be found here.
New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.