Thursday, October 29, 2020

Voting Is Worth the Wait

Voting this year wasn't what it usually is for me. Most years I wake up really early, show up at my polling place around 6 AM, and I'm the very first person there. Last year we had this law that gave us up to four hours off to vote. I needed to organize our staff around it, so of course I took the four hours. This year is something entirely different. 

I'm sure I'm not alone here. This is the first time we've had early voting in NY State, and it's pretty exciting. Everyone wants to vote ASAP. On Saturday, I went to the Freeport Recreational Center, got frightened at the line, and turned right around for home. 

I mean, there was always the possibility of just waiting until Election Day and going in really early. This notwithstanding, it seemed worth checking on Sunday as well. Sunday was way worse than Saturday, so I suppose I was not the only one who had that idea. But Monday? Monday would surely be better. After all, a whole lot of people needed to report for work. I was working from home, so as soon as my last class finished, I'd drive to the rec and vote. Monday, though, looked like Saturday, and the line wasn't moving at all. 

I'd heard from friends that nearby sites were a little better, so I drove five minutes to the North Merrick

Library. The line was just as long as the one in Freeport, but it seemed to be moving faster. I got on line and decided to take my chances. Just across the street was this house. There's the Trump flag, the Trump sign, and smaller signs urging us to vote for every GOP 'candidate on the line. The thing that upset me most is the fact that the GOP congressional candidate here, whatever his name is, has signs all over the place. Our Congresswoman, Kathleen Rice, seems to have signs precisely nowhere. Now Rice is not my favorite politician, having compared AOC to Trump. Still, I don't want her to lose. It's funny how low your standards get when a demagogue like Donald Trump is running for President. 

We had some interesting conversations on the line. They guy behind me, wearing an American flag mask, said this would certainly influence voters. I told him no one stood on a line like this unless they already decided who they were voting for, and he agreed. The women in front of me had other priorities. They kept speaking about how awful it was that people couldn't get along because they disagreed about politics. I wasn't going to argue with them, but I think Trump is such an abomination that it behooves us to oppose him in every possible way we could imagine.

Then, one of the women started saying, "They'd better ask me for my ID." I told her that NY State did not require ID, and she was quite disappointed. Then we heard they were, in fact, asking for name, address, and DOB. The guy behind me said that anyone who wanted to could just go and vote for someone they knew who was not planning to vote. I'm not sure how many registered voters don't plan to vote this year, or how I'd determine they didn't want to, or how I'd get their personal information just to commit a federal crime and vote in a state whose leanings were a virtual lock, but I didn't argue with him either. 

I was pretty happy when we finally got close enough to turn the corner and imagine the last legs of our wait. That was around 20 minutes in. A few minutes later, we finally made it into the library, where social distancing was enforced a whole lot better than it was on the line. We had to step on Xs, and wait until the next X was occupied before advancing.

And just as predicted, I have my name, address and birthday and they handed me a ballot. I voted for Biden and Harris on the Working Families line, as suggested by AOC, and voted straight Democratic otherwise. I even voted for Kathleen Rice. It's disturbing to see no evidence of her campaign. I remember Tom Suozzi lost as County Executive to Ed Mangano because he felt himself a shoo-in and barely bothered campaigning. Mangano, last I heard, was still awaiting sentencing after having been convicted of corruption. 

I'm a unionist, and I've seen no evidence that GOP supports union or working people. I remember Janus, and I'm absolutely sure that was just the beginning, especially now that they've deposited Amy Coney Whatever on the court. This is not going to be a great year for those of us who actually work for a living. I don't know exactly how much money I'd need to have before considering going GOP and screwing all the people who made less money than I did. It's hard to imagine any scenario I'd go that way. 

I'm not sure how smart we are standing on lines, particularly since Election Day will bring us ten times the number of places we can vote, and will likely be a good way for us to avoid lines altogether. Nonetheless, it's great to see people all fired up about voting, and willing to do whatever they can to make sure they are counted.

Don't forget to vote! I'm really glad I did, and you'll be glad when you do too.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

This Week in Apocalypse Video--Queen's Gambit

Perhaps you, like me, don't jump up and down or get unduly excited over chess. So you might not expect a miniseries with chess at its center is something you want to get involved with. But Queen's Gambit is something more than that, and you won't be able to take your eyes off actress Anya Taylor-Joy. She's mostly absent from the first episode, but the brief glimpse of her in the first scene gives a good clue to the series' eventual focus.

Fortunately, the younger version of her, actress Isla Johnston, somehow manages to be just as compelling as her adult counterpart. Orphaned at a young age, Beth Harmon is brought to an orphanage with some curious practices, the oddest of which is the jelly bean jar full of tranquilizers with which they daily sedate the girls. (Would that make teaching easier too?) Young Beth learns to love Librium, and what could be better for a kid than setting up lifelong addictions at a young age? Thank goodness for the charitable institutions that make America what it is.

The teachers at this orphanage are barely relevant. As important as we fancy ourselves, we're not always the instruments of change we want to be. In this case, it's the custodian who turns out to inspire and challenge young Beth. She stumbles upon him practicing chess in the basement and is instantly fixated on the board. At first he wants nothing to do with her but she prevails upon him. Actor Bill Camp, with few scenes and  fewer words, establishes himself as the most pivotal and influential character in Beth's young life.

Beth is adopted by a couple that reflects some of her own qualities both good and bad--a taciturn dad who likes to read the paper and neglect those around him, and a talented mom who adores alcohol in all its shapes and forms. We learn along with Beth that a martini with an onion instead of an olive is a Gibson, and hey, what's better than compounding your tranquilizer addiction with alcohol? I still can't fathom how Beth manages to play chess better with the help of Librium. (A doctor once prescribed me Valium, and the only thing I did well under its influence was sleep.)

We see politics creep into the chess world at odd moments. It's not cheap traveling around the world to go to chess tournaments. When Beth is trying to figure out how to pay for a Russian trip, a Christian group that had been supporting her offers to help. They ask her to condemn Russia as an atheist state. Beth turns them down and gives all their money back. When she calls the State Department, they decline to help her financially but send some guy to Russia with her. He also asks her to condemn the Soviets.

The importance of family is explored throughout. Who is your family? Is it the people who share your blood, the people with whom you share your time, or the people on whom you can depend? Beth's adoptive mother is supportive of her, to an extent, but at the same time a beneficiary of Beth's spectacular talent. Her adoptive father is pretty creepy, almost a caricature of an indifferent male. Her friends, though, show great loyalty and support, helping her at key moments. This, evidently, is the kind of support the Soviets lent to chess players, and that's a quality Beth learns to respect and appreciate.

There are, of course, weak moments. Beth is roused from a particularly intense bender to find she has an upcoming competition. She walks into the building looking like Svengoolie. There's no explanation why the generally fashion-conscious Beth decides to paint herself as though she's just been subject to an autopsy. Without giving anything away, the conclusion was a little pat and predictable for such a complex tale.

A good feature of Queen's Gambit is that it's listed as a limited series. I'm hopeful that means there is no Son of Queen's Gambit in the works. The fact that this has a beginning and an end makes it all the better. Streaming on Netflix, don't miss this.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

When Carranza Says PTA, He Means "Pass Them All"

Our friends at the DOE have done it again. They've unilaterally issued a grading policy, and haven't bothered to consult with those of us who actually do the work. Of course they know better than we do what goes on in classrooms. After all, we spend all of our time teaching, and what do we know about sitting around in offices and generating reports that no one wants to read? That's why they're in charge and we aren't.

One recent innovation, aside from the grading policy, was telling parents if you don't opt your kids in now, you can't do it at all. To Bill de Blasio, parents have had enough time to make up their minds whether or not they want their children in school. Evidently, conditions are going to stay the same November through June and there is no possibility whatsoever of anything changing. And he knows that for sure because he's taller than any of us. Or perhaps there's some other reason, but it makes just as much sense as the last one.

Never mind that he made an agreement with the state. The thirty-dollar-an-hour lawyers over at "legal" have told him the state doesn't matter, and that should be good enough for anyone. After all, why should they be bothered reading agreements when they can just say Any Damn Thing, and please not only principals, but also the mayor?

And then there's the agreement itself, which brings back the NX rating. I have mixed feelings about that. I don't think anyone should suffer as a result of the pandemic, but I have students who actually deserve to fail. We ask students to show themselves, and most do. Some don't. Sometimes they have camera issues. Sometimes I don't see their faces, but they respond when I question them.

Other times, like last year, they don't say a peep. I write them privately, in the chat, and they don't answer. They never do homework and never contribute to the class. For my money, these students deserve to fail. But hey, I can live with giving them the benefit of the doubt, even if I know they don't merit it.

The part of the agreement that really grabbed my attention was on page 7. Here is the specific language: 

The teacher providing targeted instruction to support a student in passing courses in which they previously received an ‘NX’ is responsible for determining the final outcomes of the course. If the current teacher is different from the previous teacher of the course, the teacher should request relevant records of the student’s progress and performance from the previous teacher, in alignment with school-based procedures. The current teacher may also assess students at the beginning of the term to determine students’ individual needs. As outlined in the Transfer Student Toolkit, for students who transfer between schools, it is the responsibility of the receiving school to request all records from the previous school within the first two weeks of a student’s matriculation and as soon as possible. 

Evidently our esteemed chancellor has determined that working teachers haven't got enough to do during the pandemic. Perhaps he's upset he was unable to rob us of a billion dollars a few weeks back. While I can't read his mind, I can read the words. If I'm teaching English 2, I have to figure out why my students failed English 1. Not only that, but I have to look up the records of said student because, of course, I have nothing else to do. 

Now if I actually had the student in English one, I'm responsible for "determining the final outcomes of the course." If not, I have to "request relevant records." When, exactly, am I supposed to do that? Unless the DOE is providing time away from my other duties, or unless they're paying me, it sounds like they've just given me an extra job to do. Or, if I have five students who failed, five extra jobs to do.

How much work did the students miss? I guess I have to figure it out. And I guess it is I who will have to check the work the students offer to make it up. It doesn't matter, evidently, that I already have 170 papers to read for my five maxed-out classes. I also have to read the assignments from last year, the ones I may or may not have assigned, and may or may not understand.

This is not to mention, of course, the folly of simply advancing students no matter what. I teach language. The fact is you might find it hard to master second year if you missed first year, and it doesn't matter whether you slept through the class or lacked internet access. If we are all conversant and you are not, you will have a tough time understanding us. I'm sure other subjects are similar. I tuned out of geometry in tenth grade and had to take it again in eleventh. They didn't advance me to trigonometry, and I'm glad of it.

What we have here is yet another poorly thought out plan, unilaterally designed by the Tweedies. Like the hybrid plan, they haven't thought it through. They've created a monster with this NX system, and rather than deal with it, they've dumped it into our laps and said, "Good luck."

I think their hope is that everyone just gives up and passes everyone no matter what. Otherwise, I have no idea why they've taken such a complicated mess and reduced it to such nonsense.

Monday, October 26, 2020

UFT Executive Board October 26, 2020---DOE Unilaterally Issues Grading Policy

Roll Call


UFT President Michael Mulgrew--City put out a grading policy. Not discussed with us. Should've come up with something more flexible. We will look at it and decide what to do. DOE hasn't done much work because it's very similar to last year's.

There are supposed to be four opt in periods for parents. We wanted parents to see how things were going. While in schools we have procedures, but they unilaterally announced people had to make decisions right now. Doesn't follow what's in state plan, and may lead to a fight. Newark just went into complete lockdown. Country had largest 7 day average ever. Not smart to force a choice now. Will be conversations. 

Operational side--complaints are moving and being resolved. Still have issues with superintendents unfamiliar with concept of work. Grievance dept. getting involved. DRs are pushing. Some districts have no issues, but others have many. 

Election will take up a lot of energy, hopefully for no longer than two weeks. Our retirees and volunteers are working very hard. We understand what everyone's facing so we're just relying on volunteers. We do have a lot, and I thank them. 

Angel ?--Did two rounds of calls on priority districts in NYC, SI and Brooklyn, and also union households in Florida. Working with NYSUT and AFT in PA, current focus. 55 retirees calling PA. Increase in in-service members also calling PA.

Mayor claimed to look for best practices around the globe. Got many amusing emails about that. We can't let our guard down. Virus growing in many parts of country. Newark is now where we were in March. This is what we're facing.


Union position on citywide grading policy--needs to be more nuanced. 

Too many members vote anti-union--That's a constant struggle. Politics is always tough. Members voting that way don't disagree about public ed. issues. They make own choices. President, all day, says if he lose PA system is rigged. 

No official discussions, but cause for great concern if we go over 3%. We are at 1.7 now, but some locales much higher. Very concerned.

DOE finally released attendance figures, 80-85%. No consistent procedures. They make many mistakes. 

Grading policy came out today. Is not ours. Only DOE's. Contact us with issues.

Observations--no word yet. We are ready to discuss this. Waiting for state guidance. Many unanswered questions.

Retro--please call hotline for salary rep. Should've been simple. Totals looked right, but not sure how they got there. 

Arthur Goldstein--On page 7 of the new grading policy, it says that the subsequent teacher will be responsible for resolving NX grades in the future. This appears to be extra work to which we have not agreed and for which we will not be compensated. Can you please tell the chancellor exactly what he can do with this idea? 

I will tell him. Only good press he ever gets is when he works with us. He does much better when he works with us. I agree with you and we will put that right on the table.

(in response to next question) Starting to get cold now, but you will have to leave windows open to some degree. I would keep them open at least a little. You need MERV 13 if you don't have enough fresh air, but if I had access to open windows, I would. Advise all to dress warmly if necessary. There are many myths about ventilation. We continue to test schools. We now have a way with an outside company, who gave a plan to get rid of old filtration system and replace it. If you have windows, safer to open them.

Melody Anastasia--Regs between how quickly teachers are informed about positive result?

We try for within 24 hours. There are confirmations that have to go on. Most schools have singleton cases. PPE seems to work. Most important safeguards, masks, social distancing, washing hands and with monitoring and tracing it's safer.

Medical accommodations--tough to get documentation, want to plan ahead.

Has never been closed. They seem to have slowed down dramatically. Since they announced they were furloughing management, we've seen distinct drop off in work. Started moving again. People have been hearing things over weekend. See doctor by early December if you wish to extend.

Michael Sill--I will find out how far in advance you can get documentation.

Mulgrew--If we're in shutdown I don't want to redo accommodation process.  

Sometimes parents tell us in morning children have tested positive. Once verified, then contact tracing should kick in. Reach out to Jeff Povalitus if that's not happening.

Wishes us good luck, says don't get too crazy watching election. Be safe and follow procedures. 6:29

Second Roll Call

Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Chancellor Writes Us Once More

October 21, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

Thank you for your ongoing commitment and service to the 1.1 million children in our schools. If you weren’t out there, people from my office would have to be, and if you’ve met any of us you know well that we instinctively recoil from anything resembling actual work. Of course we don’t want to actually teach after spending months, years, or perhaps decades sitting around our offices.

Earlier today, the State of New York has made some important announcements regarding areas of the city that have been experiencing elevated rates of COVID-19 transmission, including where your school is located. As you know, your school is in a high risk area, which is just one reason you will never catch my ass near it, not that I’d bother anyway. Nope, I’ll be sitting in my office with a mask handy in case anyone manages to get past my secretary.

Here is today’s update for your school:
1. Your school continues to be designated in the yellow zone.
2. Pursuant to State guidance, your building can remain open, and if anything happens you can bet we will be there, albeit not literally, with thoughts and prayers.
3. An important precautionary step is mandatory weekly testing of a random selection of staff and students in the school building. Mandatory testing is completely voluntary, and if you fail to give consent we will place you on unpaid leave. We will consider that your contribution to Making Tweed Great Again.
4. In order for us to test you for COVID-19, we need your consent. This is completely voluntary, except if you don’t volunteer we won’t be paying you.

I thank the many of you who have already submitted your consent for COVID-19 testing. For those who haven’t, we thank you. Since we now no longer have to pay you, some of your salary will be dumped in the pot of money we now have to pay out on October 31st, while the rest will be in what we call petty cash. We keep a barrel of it in my office.

The test is easy, quick, and safe, and will be administered to a randomly generated selection of students in grades 1-12 and staff each week. You may register online, but frankly we’d be just as happy if you didn’t, because we really do not wish to pay you. You know that well, of course.

We know you likely have questions, and we encourage you to call HR and spend hours on hold, hoping in vain that someone will pick up your call. It might even be me sitting there and refusing to pick up. You never know!

Thank you for your service. You can imagine how much I must appreciate it. After all, I just tried to weasel out of paying you almost a billion dollars. Sadly, I now have to pay half, and will likely have to pay the other half this summer. This might seriously cut down on the quality of gala luncheons around here, and damn it I love me a gala luncheon.

In summary, screw you guys, I’m going home.

In unity,

Richard A. Carranza, Chancellor,
New York City Department of Education

Friday, October 23, 2020

Why Have a Chancellor When a Rubber Stamp Will Do?

Chancellor Richard Carranza presided over keeping schools open way too long, and dozens of UFT members now lie dead as a result. We are doing mostly remote learning now because it's simply not safe to place everyone in schools. Now, in an attempt to appear he actually accomplished something rather than failed miserably and inexcusably, Carranza wants to dump gifted and talented students into remote learning even post-apocalypse. 

Evidently, high achieving students don't need guidance from live humans in Carranza's fantasy world. Remote learning is something we developed to deal with an emergency, not a Carranza innovation. When we were pushed into this back in March, Carranza offered us no support whatsoever. He dragged us into buildings for three days and told our administrators, none of whom had or have experience with remote learning to somehow train us. 

Furthermore, rather than prepare or support us for this school year, he pursued an outlandish hybrid program that depended on 25-50% more teacher than actually exist. The only possible good that could come out of this would be a buyout, so that the new teachers aren't discarded when and if this emergency passes us by. Remote learning is a stopgap, and Carranza has failed to support it, us, or our students. For him to embrace it now is the height of hypocrisy.

As bad as he is, he's got nothing on the subordinates in "legal." This is a group of lawyers Bloomberg put together to make sure principals could do any goshdarn thing they pleased. They sit around somewhere and tell principals to ignore the contract so that chapter leaders waste an enormous amount of time before finally winning grievances with arbitrators, assuming said arbitrators have better reading skills than the DOE lawyers.

The other day I was shocked that legal decided sub-paraprofessionals were not actually paraprofessionals, and that rules agreed upon for paraprofessionals did not apply to them. Specifically, "legal" was telling principals that substitute paraprofessionals had to stay in buildings for six hours and fifty minutes, while full-time paras could leave thirty minutes early like teachers and finish their work at home. In fact, every sub para I know works full time with a single student and is simply waiting for the DOE to offer them full time jobs.

As though that weren't enough, I was told yesterday that sub paras, even those with students who were fully remote, are now required to do all work from school buildings. There is absolutely no reason for this, and the only thing to motivate such a directive is pettiness and vindictiveness. In fact, anything that places more people than necessary in school buildings increases the risk of COVID. 

I'm glad the chancellor has time to sit around and dream up programs. It's nice that he can sit in his clean office and make up things he deems innovative. For those of us actually doing the work, things look a whole lot different. At this point, it's hard to see why we need a chancellor at all. If he doesn't care about those of us who serve the children, if he doesn't care whether his actions spread a deadly disease, and if he holds us in such little regard that he allows small-minded lawyers to make arbitrary counter-productive rules, why do we need him at all?

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Bringing Stupid to New Heights

The center of the New York City MAGA universe is somewhere in Staten Island, and it's therefore not surprising at all to see this story coming from there.  That's a public demonstration to fully open city public schools right there. 

You can see that City Councilman Joe Borelli is out there riling up his half-dozen supporters. Of course there are good arguments for full time schooling. It's better for kids than what we're doing. I'd be 100% for it if it were, you know, safe. But those aren't the only arguments they're trotting out:

“Remote education, watching a YouTube video, is not meeting the constitutional requirement for a sound, basic education,” Borelli said. “Watching videos all day is not the same as being in school and socializing and interacting with your teachers and interacting with your peers and having the services in many cases that your child’s education plan guarantees.”

All due respect, Councilman, but you don't know what you're talking about. If I were so irresponsible that I just showed YouTube videos all the time there'd be nothing stopping me from doing it when I was face to face with full classes in the buildin. In fact you can't really run a class without the cooperation of the 34 kids in front of you, and if you're the kind of lazy slob the Councilman paints teachers as, you will be spectacularly unsuccessful.

He then argues that we don't need class size regulations for online instruction, which is beyond typical ignorance. It's late October and I'm still struggling to learn the names of my students. It has never taken me this long before. I'm trying to encourage student participation but it's very tough at this point. It's disappointing to see a public official with so little respect for educators, especially when he stands around trashing us baselessly. 

And if the councilman's ignorance hasn't yet astounded you, take a gander at this:

Other large districts – including Dallas and Miami – are already moving towards a full reopening, he noted.

Dallas is moving toward its highest rate of COVID hospitalizations since August.  Ask yourself whether that's a model you wish to emulate. Miami happens to be over the NY State threshold of 5%. Is that where most New Yorkers want to be, in terms of COVID? One of the reasons we're able to open schools to the small extent we have is that we are careful. I'm not sure why anyone would want to move backward.

I don't imagine this movement of idiots is going anywhere in NYC, but the fact is the Presidential election will be a referendum on whether or not we collectively believe in science. President Trump and the MAGA crowd clearly think science is for wimps.

I don't know about you, but I'd rather be a live wimp than a dead flat earther any day. It's embarrassing that Borelli found even the half-dozen New Yorkers he did to stand up and protest sanity. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The Lingering Stench of Mike Bloomberg

 The other day I asked a question at UFT Executive Board:

The DOE is full of Bloomberg leftovers hired from TFA refugees, cocktail parties, hopeless relatives and who knows where else. What are we going to do to get the next mayor to sweep clean, get rid of the incompetence and indifference, and sweep the stench of Bloomberg from Tweed forever?

Why, exactly, would I ask a thing like that? For one thing, it's years of dealing with DOE "legal." Ostensibly, this group exists to advise principals, but in reality, its prime directive is to impede union activity in any way possible. It will offer the most outlandish advice, and a chapter leader might repeatedly spend months grieving as a result. 

One of the reasons is that, at Step Two of grievances, the DOE generally doesn't even bother listening to UFT. Like "legal," the people repping the DOE can't be bothered with rules, evidence, or any such frivolity. They just do any damn thing they like and make you wait months again to see an arbitrator. I was once told to stand outside a door, and actually heard the rather loud hearing officer essentially say the principal had no case. Months later, I lost the Step Two hearing anyway.

For one very long year, I took the job of LAB BESIS coordinator. This job had to do with testing ELLs. I had to deal with a whole lot of records. It was good in one way, because I finally had an office to conduct union business, but I wasn't particularly fond of the actual job. It was a lot of tedious computer work, and the DOE system I had to use was twenty years out of date. It was tedious and not especially rewarding.

The thing that pushed me over the edge, though, was when I tried to help a kid. I don't remember exactly what happened, but there was a missing record or something, and a kid was misplaced as a result. I spent months asking about it, and no one would say anything to me. When I finally sent an email with a tone a little less than neutral, I got a threatening letter back that there would be consequences if I kept pushing the issue, though none of said consequences involved helping the student in question. The student was beside the point.

I walked into the APO's office and said, "I quit." She thought I was quitting my job as a teacher and was kind of shocked. I told her no, I was going back to being a teacher and giving up all the glory and perks of being LAB BESIS coordinator. I disliked the job, but really hated the people who were supposed to support me. They did not remotely support me, and bristled at the thought of having to do anything but sit in their offices and do Whatever It Was they did there.

A recent winner in what takes the cake, though, is this--All paraprofessionals are now entitled to work the same hours as teachers, and leave buildings after six hours and twenty minutes. This is an agreement between UFT and DOE. It's pretty clear to me, and to anyone not hard of reading, what that means. In Bloomberg's DOE, though, creative interpretation is a big plus

For example, there are also sub paraprofessionals. Sub paras are not quite like substitute teachers. Substitute teachers may get called day to day, teach this or that, and go here or there. Every sub para I know has a regular assignment. They have to work at least thirty days in a row somewhere, but they also have to wait until the DOE magically opens its hiring window. Sometimes they get hired faster in D75, but regardless, they work for a daily salary with no benefits until and unless they procure full time positions.

The DOE, in its wisdom, has now decreed that these paraprofessionals cannot leave thirty minutes early as per the UFT agreement, or they'll be docked. We are fighting it, but it's absolutely disgraceful that the DOE would seek to take advantage of these people. And for what? To keep them around for an extra thirty minutes? Doe that really make a pivotal difference somewhere?

It's not enough for the DOE that these paraprofessionals are working without health benefits in public school buildings in the midst of a pandemic, the likes of which none of us have seen in our lifetimes. No, the DOE needs to nickel and dime them and squeeze every last drop of blood they can.

Honestly, I don't know how people so soulless and vicious got into education. I knew one DOE hack who got the gig because her mother was a more prestigious DOE hack. I hear Bloomberg hired a lot of TFA two-year wonders. We all know the kind of people Bloomberg and Klein wanted, and we all know the kind of behavior they encouraged.

Mayor de Blasio sat on his ass and did nothing about these people. The chancellor, who talks a big game about his love and respect for educators, has followed and sustained the do nothing policy. Now I can understand how a bunch of people hired for their sociopathic qualities might be good with this sort of thing. 

But honestly, I have no idea how the chancellor sleeps at night.

It is of paramount importance that we support a mayoral candidate willing to clean house at the DOE.

Monday, October 19, 2020

UFT Executive Board October 19, 2020 --The Fun Never Stops


Roll Call 5:50

 UFT Secretary LeRoy Barr--Welcomes us.


UFT President Michael Mulgrew--6:08--Moving heavily on operational issues. Will meet with chancellor this week. Will try and figure where we need more staff. Have stopped cooperating until these things get resolved. Disappeared last year, and summer, and now want to do whatever they feel like. Will follow up on that. May send something to CLs. More people are coming forward now with other issues. 

Retirees and volunteers working hard, Max Rose and Nicole M. very expensive race. Andrew Benardis in Brooklyn too. Retirees working in multiple states. Cassie Pruett can help if you want to volunteer.

We're focused on getting schools open. Data shows it's relatively safe right now, but we can't be too sure. We will likely be in this setting for rest of school year.

Questions about equity between last year and this year. Remote instruction improved, but not the same as what we usually do. Lots of adults having conversations rather than playing politics. 

Monitoring stimulus conversation. Spoke with AFT. Comes down to whether they have enough to push Senate to do a package. We have to be careful with language. Education part looks good so far. Support city and state funding. 


Why did union agree to split lump sum? Union did not agree. Arbitrator made the decision, and we agreed to no layoffs and guaranteed raise. That's agreement.

Mandatory testing unethical? We use original safety guidance from CDC. Feds don't want to bother with testing now. Every doctor we worked with said this is important. All fed agencies politically manipulated.

The DOE is full of Bloomberg leftovers hired from TFA refugees, cocktail parties, hopeless relatives and who knows where else. What are we going to do to get the next mayor to sweep clean, get rid of the incompetence and indifference, and sweep the stench of Bloomberg from Tweed forever?--This is our frustration. Same people causing all these problems. Middle management useless, harmful. Had to testify at City Council, said operational side is great. People on instructional side horrendous, only cause problems. They have to go. Mayor's race coming up, changes everything.

No lump sum payments carry interest. If they do anything with raise we can go back to arbitrator. Just because we have an agreement, and city is following, we still prepare in case anything goes wrong.

SBO process is ours. We will get pressure from principals. Our job to hold the line. Sometimes you have to say too bad, you're not getting it. We will go after principals if necessary.

Retro for per session should follow same path as other retro. 

Sent chancellor's email specifically saying Election Day is remote learning day and no UFT should be in building. 

Thanks us.  Will need committees to look at things discussed at DA, and we'll meet next week.

D75 admin following guidance as per DOE with masks--What happens if one of our children gets sick? They didn't send a sick kid home because he didn't have a fever.

If a kid has symptoms, he can be sent home whether or not he has fever. Working with city for clearer guidance. Asking for medical documentation for kids who don't wear masks. Will work on that this week. Another reason to get rid of all the Bloomberg leftovers.

Wishes us good night and good week.

This Week in Apocalypse Video--David Byrne's American Utopia

I don't know about you, but I really miss Broadway. I know I won't be seeing it until at least sometime next summer. If you miss theater, this is the closest you'll get for quite some time If you love music, you will love this. If you love people, you will love this. It's filmed by Spike Lee, and he does a remarkable job of catching things you'd miss even from a front row orchestra seat.

Byrne starts out simply. He intersperses the songs with bits of dialogue. He tells us the things that most attracts our eyes are other people. We certainly see people on the largely bare stage. He's got a hugely talented band, collected from all over America, North and South. Byrne's interest in Latin American music is longstanding, and the half-dozen percussionists he's gathered on the stage reflect it.

You'll be drawn to this band, obviously enjoying every moment on this stage. You won't be able to take your eyes off of the joyous female backup singer, and director Spike Lee turns to her repeatedly just in case. In fact, you see a whole lot more here than you'd see if you were in the theater. (The keyboard player looks suspiciously like Mike Mulgrew, but I doubt he's moonlighting as a musician these days.)

You see the play from multiple angles, and quote often you're shown the performers' perspective of the audience. It's remarkable to see all three levels of the theater from the stage, and it's even more remarkable to see a Broadway audience so obviously involved with the show. One advantage that audience might have on home viewers is they're constantly on their feet. Aside from when I've been to performances almost entirely populated by NYC students, I've not seen audiences so physically enthralled by a performance. 

While I wasn't a follower of Talking Heads, I'm familiar with their big hits. They alternate with newer and different songs, but there's palpable excitement when Byrne plays hits. This band does everything well, including a nonsense lyric from Dada. The choreography is really impressive. At 68, Byrne has more energy than most people half his age.

Here's a memorable lyric:

Every day is a miracle. Every day is an unpaid bill.

You owe it to yourself to be happy. Byrne's Utopia is all about showing you how to do that. But Byrne's Utopia is in his mind and on his stage. He knows how far we are from it. He takes a moment to tell of how he was out trying to get people to pledge to vote. He has some organization in the theater ready to register audience members to vote, no matter which state they're from.

And when Byrne decides to give a direct message about BLM, he does it in a way that's unforgettable aurally and visually. Byrne heard Janelle Monae sing a song at the Women's March in 2017, and asked for her permission to perform it. How would she feel about a white man singing this song? She was thrilled and you will be too when you see it. Why are people of color being murdered on American streets? If you still aren't sure what Black Lives Matter is about, Byrne and have not only chapter and verse, but also photos. In stark contrast with the nominal leader of our country, Byrne says he himself can get better.

He follows that with a song of hope, calling America a work in progress. We won't know much about American progress until at least November 4th. But if you need something hopeful to hang your hat on for a little while, this is it. You'll be right there as Byrne marches the band out into the audience, and out into the New York streets on bicycles. 

You deserve a diversion. If you haven't got HBO, Try a free trial.  If you don't like it, I'll refund your money.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Making the Best of the Impossible

 There's no magic bullet to ease our anxiety. There's no certain answer to solve our dilemmas. And no matter how bad things get, they can always get worse.

We just had a positive case in our building. Of course our building doesn't look the way it usually does. More than half of our students are all remote, and most of those who aren't come in once or twice a week. 

It's freaky, and it's scary. But everyone who came into contact with that person is out of the building for two weeks. Is it perfect? Of course it's not. Nothing ever will be.

We have fewer students this year, I'm told, because some parents are pulling their kids from public schools. They're finding private ones that will see them in person five days a week. I'm mystified as to what would make parents find that an acceptable risk. I don't even allow my dog to socialize the way he used to, and my dog adores attention anywhere he can find it.

I'm teaching online, and so far I've only seen two of my students studying from the building. I was surprised to see them there, but I'm glad they managed to catch their classes one way or another. I have a feeling after this week there hapwill be fewer of them choosing to go in. It doesn't really take much. Since they're only going in a few days a week anyway, I'll bet a lot of parents will choose to keep their kids home, and a lot of students, more than before, will simply make that choice for themselves.

That's a net positive, because the fewer people there are in buildings, the less chance there will be to spread the virus. After they send your kid home for two weeks, are you gonna say, what the hell, let's roll the dice again and hope for the best? Will you feel confident in the process, knowing that it appeared toy have worked in this case? Or will you wonder, now that they've tested 20% at random, what the hell is going on with the other 80%?

It's good that we're taking precautions. It's good that we're masked. Everyone wearing a mask is less likely to spread the virus, especially to others who are masked. And distancing helps as well. As freaky as it may be to be in a building now, we were at far worse risk back in February and March, when we were crammed in like sardines. I took an antibody test last spring, and I was absolutely shocked to test negative. 

We had no idea what we were doing back then. I regularly took the subway. I brought a bunch of students to see The Lion King on Broadway. I would never have done that knowing what I know now. Just a few weeks later, Broadway was closed. My students and I were still making the daily trek to the most overcrowded school in New York City. In retropect, it's hard for me to see how the Broadway trip was any more risky than what we were doing day to day.

It's a good time to be kinder than usual to our students. Whatever stress we're feeling, they're surely feeling too. I hope you and your family are well. I hope you can find reserves of happiness somewhere, and I hope you can share them with the kids you serve.

That's about the best we can do right now.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

UFT Town Hall October 15, 2020

by special guest Mindy Rosier

Mulgrew: Thank you for taking the time on such a beautiful day to make it on this call. We are going to be talking about a lot of going ons. Spent a lot of the weekend talking to medical experts. When will this pandemic end? How long will our school system have to stay in this way? Next year we should be in a better place. It is about figuring out how we navigate through everything we need to deal with. The elections is weeks away and then we work on the Mayor's race. We are making sure we are safe, our livelihood is intact, and we are working on issues with the principals and the DOE.

We need to be diligent with everything we are doing. We are the only school system with mandated testing. Now the Gov wants to do more of this. We fought for the testing, the PPE, and we pushed the Mayor for delays twice. 

We cannot take anything for granted. We need to know issues right away. Schools have been getting the supplies. You must report any issues. City Hall found the money to make it work. We can only take care of a problem if we know about it. We will make sure they will do what they are supposed in making sure schools are fully supplied. Everything we have now, we had to fight for. PPE and procedures are the number one piece in stopping the virus. Then comes cleaning and testing. This should keep our schools safe. Everyone needs to do what they supposed to.

There is clearly a second wave hitting the country. We are paying attention. 

Our testing program has started. We get the reports nightly. We are way below the city average. You have to wear a mask. You need to be responsible. It's mandated testing for everyone. You have a responsibility to keep each other safe. The first week, the results weren't coming back fast enough. Solution was put it all in one place called the Situation Room. If there's a problem, we will move quickly. 

We now know we are not teaching children the way we would outside of the pandemic. We change. We adapt. Its what we do. 

There are community spikes and we saw specific zip codes go up. In the deal with the city and state, with rates over 3%, the schools must be tested. Of 118 schools, only 25 schools were being tested. We were preparing to go to court. The city was in violation with the plan that was put in place. We were ready. Call got a call on Sunday night from City Hall. All schools in those zip codes will be put in remote for at least 2 weeks. Gov jumped in with colored zones. We are tracking everything. We went from having to shut down the whole school system down to getting those schools into remote right away when there's a spike. Now the city is responsible to do the testing. If you need any further information on this, you can contact the call center.

Do not take anything for granted. Let us know if there are any issues in your school. We need to know if people don't wear a mask. That is not ok. Everyone must wear a mask.

Profession and livelihood: By next September, hopefully we'll have some normalcy. This has changed all of us forever. The economic wreckage on our economy is going to last years. It's real bad. The only good thing is, we may be able to bounce back quicker because we have so many industries here. 

If the city were able to borrow $3B, it wouldn't last long and we would go back in the red. NYC costs so much to run. There is a job increase in city, but not the state. There's no tourists, no planes, cargo ships. Economy has been very damaged. We fought really hard for the Cares act which ended at the end of September. Since the Cares Act prevented layoffs, as soon as it ended, Disney laid off thousands as did the airlines. Here, the Mayor spoke of layoffs for all agencies including us. We were able to thwart that because our schools couldn't open safely until there was more staff. 

If we get a big stimulus, we can get through 

the next 3 years and the ecoomy hopefully will pick up. If it doesn't, it can take 5-10 years. We had robust calls about retro. We were preparing for a problem with the retro. We asked for confirmation on the retro. We didn't get one. We use an electronic service, they don't understand our system. They thought they had to issue payment to the bank and they thought they had until the 13th. I said again, are you processing the retro payments. They did not confirm. They were not putting the money in the system and it was on hold. We put the legal papers together . That money is directly under the control of a mediator. Because of this, we could go straight to arbitration if there were any issues. Last Thursday, we got the  notification that there will be no retro. Told them we are going to arbitration and they weren't happy. Friday we went into arbitration and it was long and ugly. They kept arguing fiscal emergency. If they say this now, they can claim this anytime when they don't want to pay for something.  The arbitrator thought they were nuts. Plus on top of this, they were threatening to lay us off? The city was not happy with what was agreed to, the raise, the split payment, and no layoffs this school year.

We will get half of the retro this month and the other half in July.

Something else came out this day. We were able to get legislation crafted and was introduced to the senate and assembly.  We have been working on this for months. The city has given us written support for an  Early Retirement Incentive. They introduce this all the time in Albany, the electeds say they support it but then it goes nowhere. We will negotiate, we will get the legislation in place, and the city will be in agreement. 

Moving forward we need to get all of these operational complaints taken care of. Some principals say there's nothing we can do which is full of crap. Every CL is getting a phone call from the union. In late August principals were asked if they were ready. Staffing becomes an issue once open. Since they said they were good originally, staffing requests are being denied. An SBO is our tool not the principals. There are teachers who only want to teach their students both remote and in person. Do an SBO and we will work it out. There are so many ridiculous things going on in schools. Now get the schools staffed. We must remedy these things quickly. Enough is enough. The schools system is open. There will be schools that get a call at 4am letting them know that you're closed for a day or two or longer. This is the world we are living in. The craziness. 

So many of us are fried already. Working in a pandemic is a tough thing. These are extremely challenging times. Be there for each other. We are a political organization.  We have extremes on both side. Union comes first. Right now the union’s job is to protect our safety, our profession, and our livelihood.  

We are in a highly charged political society right now. Talking politics is crazy right now. All the yelling and disrupting. Our job right now has to be taking care of our safety, profession, and livelihood.  I need people to really be there for each other in the schools. What I've seen so far has been amazing. People saying how they are proud to be on the building response team. Beautiful stuff in schools during such a terrible time. These are our schools and our kids. We are going to do our jobs and we are going to take care of each other. We still have plenty of enemies. There are so many fights right now. We need to look at all of the issues and how they affect us. This is the world we are in. 

Thank you to all who have been reaching out to me. The beautiful part and the tough part of the union is trying to figure all of these things out. We keep moving forward. 

This is our profession. We adapt. We move forward in dealing with everything. We will hold more Town Hall coming up soon.

I've never seen so much stuff go out from the DOE with so much wrong information for example the testing. They said it isn't mandated, when it is mandated. 

Election day is a remote learning day. Teach from home. Not up to the principal. Kids are home. Read the calendar. We don't want you in the buildings because they will be used as polling sites. Drives me nuts. If they could just be clear with the communication it would make everything easier but they don't. 

Its phenomenal with what we all have done. 


Q: I qualify for a medical accommodation. I applied 3 weeks ago and no updates. I've also made calls to the call center. 

M: Sill will contact you after the Town Hall. 

Q: In D26 there are plenty of operational issues. Is there any light at the end of the tunnel?

M: Yes, we informed the DOE. The Mayor hired staff. Your CL will be getting a call. Our goal is to resolve these issues in a week or two. Its moving, and hopefully you will get the resolution you looking for

Q: Early retirement; Are there any specifics? If it gets passed when will we get it? 

M: It would be at the beginning of the fiscal year, if we get it done and that would be July 1st or so. People could then apply over the summer. Last one was 2002, we are looking at that. Let me be clear. It is not done yet. We do not have the Early Retirement Incentive yet. 

Q: What about medical accommodations after December 31st and any updates on Spring Break?

M: When arbitration is back up, we will move forward on Spring Break. Medical accommodations are based on a medical condition. We would have to do another one in Jan. Same documentation and everything.

Q: Speech therapist; Concerned about excessive paperwork with all of the changes including the back and forth with remote.

M: Are you saying parents are switching back and forth? 

: Yes

M: Give me some time to work out the rad. Sped folks at the DOE have nothing better to do than make us work harder while they do nothing. Mary Jo and I will be taking care of this. 

Q: Clarification on testing D75 

M: D75 is not exempt. Those doing testing are not DOE folks. D75 was never exempt. They don't seem to understand that the majority of D75 kids are in buildings with other schools. It doesn't matter how many schools in the building,  they are tested. K is still in question. We will probably be testing for the rest of the school year.

Q: In D75, it is my understanding that if students and teachers can't wear masks, they can't remain in school.  

M: Do they have a medical accommodation to not wear a mask? Can they wear a shield? I've been in many D75 schools. I see masks and shields. D75 is now getting whatever they need. The child might have to go remote. This is a health emergency. Please send info to Mary Jo. 

Q: How would the Early Retirement Incentive affect 25/55 ?

M: It might mean you may be able to retire early. But until it's negotiated, I don't want to say too much. It shouldn't affect things. They wanted us to pick specific titles. They don't want math, science and special ed to retire. It doesn't work that way. We will fight over this. Amount of credits and we'd like to settle on is 36 months. 

Q: I have a principal who thinks his interpretation is correct, how does this get resolved? Classes are doubled instead of hiring more staff.

M: Every time you hear a principal say that, you know the interpretation is crazy. This is moving forward. We started the process yesterday at the DA. What's going on with you is happening in other places. They want it done, they need to hire. 

Q: Observations?

M: We do not have an agreed upon observation process. They need to fix all of the operational issues before evaluations can even start. We have not negotiated this yet.  We believe at this time, the number is around 65% for remote. 

Q: Paras, roles, and responsibilities.  It seems that those who are remote are going 8 hours straight. There's no official schedule, no break, calling parents, and doing Sesis. It's am overwhelming amount of work. Its too much.

M: There is stuff there that should not be happening. Did you file an operational complaint? 

Same Q: No. Don't want anything escalated. Admin gave some information, but it is open for interpretation. 

M: What I'll do is, I will work with our folks with paras and get these things in place. You paras, the work you guys did was phenomenal.  For you guys to be treated this way now? Not acceptable. Paras were there to help out and went above and beyond. We will deal with this  and I will deal with the Chancellor directly. 

Q: I'm in a room without students and see students on Google meets. My lessons are all online. Can I do this from home? 

M: Yes. If all you are doing is teaching children from a room, you would qualify to work from home. 

Q: We found out that someone tested positive. How do I know proper procedures are being followed?

M: If you were informed that someone was positive, contact tracing is already happening. We taught them what questions to ask in school communities. We will get a report. Some people may be told that certain people need to quarantine.  Over the last 2 to 3 weeks, we have more confidence in them as they stepped it up. They are not DOE personnel.  They were very receptive to us. Our positivity rate right now is very low and we are doing lots of testing. 

Q: Are there any updates to Learning Bridges? 

M: Updates by the end of the week. It will be moving forward so that it is doing the job it was intended to do. They have to change the parameters of their programs.

Look, we will have another Town Hall in 2-3 weeks. There's still more issues to deal with. The program stuff, its a mess. There will be fights as these issues have to be dealt with. Thank you again for coming on this call and for everything you do. Nobody told us we'd  be doing this during a pandemic. It's about us. Doing what needs to be done. We will continue to take care of each other. It's about the passion and dedication of the work we do. It's been recognized now with our school system open. Everyone sees it. We have a lot to do. We will get through it. Find sometime to relax whenever you can. Goodnight.