Op Ed: Chancellor Carranza Doesn’t Care About Volunteer Teachers

Op Ed: Chancellor Carranza Doesn’t Care About Volunteer Teachers: An Article About the Sloopy Roll-Out of the REC programs

By Quinn Zannoni

First Mayor DeBlasio wouldn’t shut the schools. He said it was about providing childcare for health and transit workers. He said a million children had to traverse the City spreading germs so those essential workers could be provided with urgently needed support. But why expose the staff and students at a thousand schools when only a hundred would suffice? 

Starting Tuesday March 10, (https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/coronavirus-blog/2020/03/12/coronavirus-in-nyc–school-closings), schools and universities across the State had begun closing. UFT President Michael Mulgrew announced at Wednesday’s union hall meeting that he was pushing the Mayor to shut down schools. When our March 10th and 11th parent-teacher conferences had just been deemed too unsafe to hold in-person, who thought that it was safe to report for a regular school day?

At P373K, we held our breaths (quite literally), waiting and hoping for an answer. As our school’s union representative, I worked together with our administration. Without guidance from DOE Central, the following Thursday and Friday we moved lunch out of the cafeteria and into our classrooms, we canceled school-wide seminars, we hurriedly repaired sinks and soap dispensers, and streamlined busing in the morning and afternoon.

Finally, after carefully weighing the intricacies of this delicate situation, on Sunday the DOE top brass had come up with a solution and called for a school shutdown. 

And the Chancellor’s brilliant solution to the problem that kept schools open for nearly an entire extra week? Invite teachers on a volunteer basis to serve those essential workers’ children by working an entire second, full-time, six-and-a-half-hour shift on top of their regular job, with no extra pay, while commuting all over the city into large public buildings and exposing themselves to the Coronavirus. 

Why, if this is such a crisis of childcare, does the City deem it so important for these teachers to cover their homeroom classes instead of doing whatever it takes to provide childcare for essential workers?

Even the school leaders themselves do not think it is all that important. On March 18th, the Principals’ union, the CSA, sent our administrators the following email: “The goal is not to recreate a normal school day given that the sudden changes in our lives and routines are anything but normal. The goal must be to provide some semblance of stability and learning for our students…”

A few hundred teachers hacking together a few hundred evidence-lacking remote learning programs is not going to make or break any child’s future, and the City knows it. But the few thousand healthcare workers who might have to stay home could make or break many futures. We can easily relieve those courageous teachers from their daily responsibilities and cover their classes with other staff members — gym teachers, music teachers, and other “cluster teachers” — or other out-of-classroom positions such as deans, or school coaches. But the DOE wants to nickle-and-dime us and cross their fingers that our expected role as self-sacrificers saves the day, and hopefully in time for their March 23rd volunteer deadline.

No, the reason the City was slow to close schools was never about hospital staffing. They delayed for the obvious reason, that the closing of NYC schools delivers an economic blow comparable to blockading the City’s major bridges and ports. As always, it’s about the money, but nobody wants to admit it.

Now that the schools are closed, we can see just how un-seriously the City is addressing their previously elevated childcare crisis. Instead of solving the problem, they are re-framing the problem. Now the primary issue is not about providing childcare for essential workers; it is about maintaining students’ educational programs. Remote learning is mandatory work, and life-saving childcare is voluntary work. Imagine if during 9/11, the City had mandated firefighters to stay posted at their firehouses while the wreckage smoldered, and then on a purely volunteer basis invited workers to come to the Financial District on an unpaid second shift.

Maybe some brilliant HR director armed with models of a hurricane-type response where City employees are asked to volunteer at a shelter knows better than I do. Maybe I’m wrong and the City can reliably and predictably meet the staffing needs of these Regional Enrichment Centers through volunteership alone. But at this point, I’m not going to hold my breath.

About the Author: Quinn Zannoni is a passionate Special Educator and Chapter Leader at P373K. He ran with UFT Solidarity in both the 2016 and 2019 UFT Elections. Quinn is a Founding Member of UFT Solidarity and a Council Member.

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