FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 1, 2020
NEW YORK: Five educators in NYC public schools have filed an injunction against the City of New York and Chancellor Richard Carranza stating that the City’s system of permitting certain educators with the opportunity to file for and be granted a medical accommodation as “arbitrary.” These educators are calling for emergency injunctive relief “to protect Petitioners from Respondents’ arbitrary and capricious policies regarding eligibility for remote work promulgated by the NYCDOE which jeopardizes their health and safety due to COVID-19.”
Alarmed at what they have concluded is a dangerous and unsustainable safety plan, public school educators affiliated with the second largest caucus of the United Federation of Teachers have begun efforts that they hope will lead the largest school district in the nation delay a return to in-person instruction “until the City of New York has determined it safe to conduct indoor activities and the State of NY has removed all bans on large group events, as per Executive Order No. 202.3 filed by Governor Cuomo from March 12, 2020.” The Solidarity Caucus helped fundraise for this litigation through small donations from other UFT members and community members using GoFundMe. At present the caucus has fundraised over $5700. They have retained Bryan Glass, a well-known and respected labor and education attorney in the New York region.
The litigation, filed September 1, 2020 following an internal review of de Blasio’s plan and the UFT’s three-point approach to reopening schools, came after a long period of reflection and discussion with it’s membership who were largely alarmed with the rejection of remote learning and a gradual phase-in of in-person classes after the UFT lost 75 educators over the Spring.
After examining the city’s safety plan and recalling the track record of city officials thus far, the union caucus has concluded that too many students, families and staff will become sick or die if they did nothing additional to protect teachers who were prevented the opportunity to work from home. Attorney Bryan Glass sent UFT President Michael Mulgrew the following email on August 31,
As you may know, our firm has represented many teachers, including many of your members in recent years. We wanted to extend to you the courtesy of letting you know that we are shortly filing an application for injunctive relief for several educators who do not qualify for the DOE medical accommodations, and on behalf of others similarly situated.
The NYC Department of Education used the categories designated by the CDC as “high-risk” categories for contracting coronavirus. However, many of these categories are arbitrary and capricious and do not protect teachers who do not fall within the guidelines, but should also be allowed to work remotely. Five UFT members who live and work in different boroughs and schools allege the following in their petition:
In contrast, many employees, including Petitioners and others similarly situated, would not qualify for these medical accommodations for permission to work remotely for the upcoming school year and can only take a leave of absence using their own leave time to avoid being taken off payroll by the NYCDOE if they refuse to report at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. These educators have a Hobson’s choice between their paycheck/livelihood and the health and safety of themselves and their loved ones.
As one petitioner states in the petition, “[Her] school campus has severe issues regarding ventilation. Many offices in the school are internal and have no windows to allow for fresh air. . . The air quality in the staircases is terrible. Many teachers have complained that they have difficulty breathing when they use the stairs.”
According to another petitioner, most students from Brooklyn Technical High School live in “multi-generational households with elderly relatives.” Many of their parents work as essential or health care workers as well. Since Brooklyn Technical High School has over 5,900 students, even with multiple cohorts, there is a fear that students will still contract coronavirus from public transit, another student, or a faculty member and get others sick.
Other petitioners are guardians of children who have been signed up for remote-only instruction. Many of them are deeply concerned about the expense and logistics of child-care and keeping their families safe from being exposed to the virus. Other petitioners live with partners or take care of elderly parents who suffer from conditions that, if exposed to coronavirus, could jeopardize their lives.
Solidarity Caucus member and former UFT presidential candidate Lydia Howrilka told caucus members, “We cannot trust Mayor De Blasio and Chancellor Carranza to protect our students, our colleagues, and all our families. Governor Cuomo warned that in-person classes at this stage would be disastrous and lead to a resurgence of coronavirus in the midst of flu season. We must not be complacent and expect the union leadership which is largely removed from the rank-and-file member’s experiences of teaching in poorly maintained buildings to protect us. While I am disappointed, the 3,600 UFT members who support us must know now that this is another example of a pattern of leadership that simply does not make the grade . It is time for us to act. If the union leadership fails to take a strong stand against the Mayor and the Chancellor, calling for a work based action and not allowing members to return to the schools until the ban of large gatherings is lifted, UFT Solidarity must be this model of democratic union leadership.”