Friday, December 31, 2021

Interview from Newsy This AM

 I speak to the abysmal state of COVID testing in city schools and what needs to be done to improve it. They couldn't seem to coordinate my mouth and words, so I think they used stock footage to cover it. Message still clear, though.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Old Mayor, New Mayor, & Governor Enact Low Standards to Keep Schools Open at Any Cost

The NY Times, which drank the COVID Kool-Aid well before it was even served, is out with the latest account of the mayor's zany antics. Because the Times can't be bothered to actually question anything, it's on those of us who actually do the work to try and figure how he gets away with such nonsense. And unfortunately, our new governor does not appear to be a whole lot better either. 

The Times headline screams there's ramped-up testing, but the devil is in the details, and they aren't pretty. Evidently, classrooms will no longer be closed. Instead, the students will be given at-home tests. If they come in and say they are negative, that's good enough for the current mayor, the future mayor, the governor, and the NY Times. 

The remarkable thing here, unnoticed by the ace Times reporter who can't be bothered talking to teachers, is that at-home testing is not acceptable for the much-vaunted Situation Room. If I say I tested positive, I have to run out, sneeze on a rich person, and get a PCR test. That's the gold standard for proving you're sick. Proving you're well is just a matter of saying, yeah, I took the test and I'm fine. That's a preposterous double standard, expressly designed to make it look like there's less COVID than there actually is.

Now I'm not a fan of Eric Adams, as he's bought and paid for by charter interests, but I had hoped, on public safety at least, that he'd take a more reasonable stand than our current ostrich-in-chief, Bill de Blasio. However, his statement here has me quite concerned:

“Your children are safer in school, the numbers speak for themselves,” Mr. Adams said.

The numbers are supremely juked, and anyone who doesn't know that isn't paying attention at all. Testing 10% of unvaccinated students who give permission is an absurd standard. The fact is, vaccinated students can get and transmit the virus. The fact is many parents who don't want their kids getting the vaccination may not believe in vaccination, or masks, or COVID, or public safety. There's no way they are giving permission for their kids to be tested for this mythical affliction. t

I don't see anything in the piece about testing for staff, but I'm gonna take a leap of faith and predict the percentage of eligible staff will also jump to 20%. That's not a big commitment for the city, especially if it continues its policy of only testing staff after all eligible and willing students have been tested. In my school, the 20% figure is meaningless, since all eligible and willing students were well below the 10% threshold. 

By making staff wait until the last possible moment, there's no way they'll have to test 20%. By the time they get to 10%, or before, it will be time to run back toward the Situation Room, or wherever they come from, before their cars turn into pumpkins. Make no mistake, this entire thing is a nothing burger, and it's endorsed by the useless current mayor, the useless future mayor, the useless governor, and the beyond useless NY Times. 

If you work in a city school, spend all that teacher choice money on quality masks and let the Christmas elves decorate your classroom. Because otherwise, you'll be depending on Christmas elves to keep you safe, and you sure as hell don't want to do that.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

On De Blasio's Way Out, He Does All He Can to Juke COVID Stats

On our last day before break, period 5, there was an announcement--Attention please...then it stopped. Now it was the voice of the AP security, so I knew it meant there was testing in our building. I was in the teacher cafeteria, not far from where I knew the testing to be. 

I'm not sure why I hung out waiting to hear the full announcement, but I did. Afterward,, I picked up my lunch bag and ran like hell to the testing site. I ran into a speech teacher on the way, also moving very fast toward the auditorium, in front of which the testing takes place. 

We got in a line with around 20 people ahead of us. Things looked good for us, particularly since neither of us had a period 6 class. Now think about just how many working UFT members happened to be excluded by that. I know well because the last few times they showed up, I was teaching and couldn't go at all. 

There's more to it, though. Evidently the testing people were there periods three and four as well. At that time, they were not permitted to test any staff. They are not allowed to test staff until all students have been tested. And that's not all. They are only allowed to test unvaccinated students who have been given permission to be tested. From what I heard, in our building there are only 37 such candidates. That's out of about 4500 students. So despite Mayor de Blasio's stated mission of testing 10%, in our building they are allowed to test a little above 1% max. I don't know how many kids were tested, but I do know the testers spent a good deal of their time doing nothing, allowed to test no one at all. 

For us, of course, there is yet another hurdle. We had to register, giving our explicit permission to be tested. For Mayor de Blasio, evidently, the act of an adult standing on line waiting to be tested does not constitute consent. We stood, wondering whether or not we'd make the 11 AM deadline. Evidently the testing kits were scheduled to turn into pumpkins at that hour, so if we didn't make it, too bad for us.

I wondered just how many would make it from the rapidly growing line to the actual test. Someone came and told me that total staff was 370, so they were only allowed to test 37. Although the DOE didn't remotely get close to testing 10% of our kids, they were holding onto a strict deadline of 10% of staff. I told my friend the speech teacher that whenever I took my dog Toby to get vaccinated at Petco, an employee walked down the line and explained to everyone how long they would have to wait. 

Fortunately, a proactive UFT secretary had the same idea. She took the list from the testers and walked down the line, checking who had and had not granted formal permission to be tested. Several disappointed colleagues exited the line, mistakenly having thought their mere presence constituted consent. (Not in de Blasio world it doesn't.) The secretary warned people beyond the 37 cutoff point that they may not make it, but that if other people left the line they might. 

Every single thing I've described points to a plan not to measure infection, but rather to avoid detecting it. It's quite clear that Mayor de Blasio, taking a page from esteemed former President Donald Trump, thinks less testing means less COVID. Of course they're both wrong. Everyone in our school, and everyone in our system would benefit from accurate infection numbers. We get a weekly report from UFT, but given the unrealistic testing level it can't be remotely accurate. 

I have deep reservations about Eric Adams as mayor. Regarding education, I have 6 million reasons to believe he will be a disaster, every one of them a dollar from charter interests. That said, it's entirely possible he could take a realistic view of safety, despite his misguided talk of unmasking students. Hopefully, someone will straighten him out on that. After all, parents who die from COVID don't enroll their kids in charters.

We can disagree about how schools should be run. Hopefully we can come to common ground on keeping students and staff as safe as possible.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

On UFT's Medicare Advantage

Like most people, the first thing I imagine when I think Medicare Advantage is Joe Namath and all the other C-list celebrities hyping it on TV commercials. I've also read quite a bit about people being stuck in plans that precluded seeing doctors of their choice. There's a great article in the Times that gives chapter and verse on that. Just the name grates on my nerves.

I would never, ever call one of those numbers on the TV screen. There's so much they don't tell you. It should be criminal to place ads like that which fail to tell the whole story. Ads for pharmaceuticals are required to mention side effects: death, suicidal thoughts...I never want to use those things after hearing about them.

This said, if I retire at year's end, I will choose the UFT's Medicare Advantage plan. There are a few reasons. One is that if I don't, I'll be paying almost $5,000 a year just to use standard Medicare. That's an obvious drawback. I'm not sure what else I could use that money for, but I'm willing to find out. 

A pivotal factor that neither Mulgrew nor his detractors seem to mention is that this plan, as yet, does not even exist. We can say this will happen or that will happen, but it doesn't mean a whole lot until it does or doesn't occur. I read that doctors will be paid the same as on standard Medicare, but they will need to sign onto this program. I also read that they're delaying until April to make that happen. The results aren't yet available. My hope is that whoever reps this plan will aggressively push it to as many doctors as possible. Not doing so would be, frankly, stupid and self-destructive. Regardless, it's very hard for me to see why any doctor would reject a plan that pays them the same as one they accept.

Like most teachers, I use GHI. I've had several experiences with doctors choosing not to accept it. One of my wife's doctors stopped, but kept on all existing patients. I had two doctors who rejected it and offered the chance to pay extra. I was going to keep my regular MD, but he suddenly started acting creepy and refusing to refill prescriptions. I found another who I like much better. Another stopped, and I started seeing a doctor I liked less. However, his practice came to their senses and took us back. 

I've been okay with GHI, even though I've sometimes had to wait for permission for tests. I understand that worries some people, and that's a valid concern. It's probably the best argument I've heard against this plan. I've had cancer, though, and permissions did not hamper my treatment at all. Another argument that I find persuasive is the one that we ought not to be part of expanding privatization. That resonates with me. 

After listening to the presentation at the DA the other night, I was not particularly impressed with any of the benefits I've heard Joe Namath talk about. The whole meals at home and transportation to doctor visits are things Joe loves to blabber over. And yet, the older we get the more likely it is that we may be in need of such services. Still, that Joe Namath thing. Were I Mulgrew, I wouldn't dwell so much on topics the TV hammers us with.

An argument of Mulgrew's that I found particularly persuasive was that of support for emergency medical visits in other countries. I was once with my daughter in Canada and she hurt her hand really badly. I had to take her to an ER on Christmas Eve, and that was no fun at all. I had to lay out a thousand dollars on my credit care for her to be seen. While the final bill was probably not up there with what an American hospital would've charged, it was in the thousands, and could have been substantially higher had her injuries been worse. Fortunately, Blue Cross covered her. All I had to pay was a $200 deductible.

I have already been concerned about how Medicare would work if I were in Canada, or some other country that would charge me. I'm very happy to hear that this problem would be covered by this program. In fact we have family in Canada and go there regularly. I know a Canadian guy who had a heart attack in NY, and who amassed hundreds of thousands in debt by having the poor judgment to do that on this side of the border. I'd hate to be in his position. One of my Canadian family members is in a union, and they insure him when he's in the states. The others have to buy insurance to come here. Under the UFT plan, I can travel without worrying about that.

Again, the program doesn't exist yet, so it's easy to list myriad reasons why it's horrible or wonderful. The truth is no one knows yet. I'll take my chances, and if it sucks I'll change. The fact is, though, that all but one of my current doctors take GHI. I'm hopeful the one holdout will take UFT Medicare, but only time will tell.

Given everything I've heard and read, I will opt into the UFT plan if I retire this year. While I'm sure it's not perfect, it's hard for me to believe all the criticism I've heard about a plan that, again, has never even been tried. I'm ready and willing to give it a chance.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Regents Exams Are Perilous. Sitting in Faux-Distanced Classes Is Fine

That seems to be the logic of the resident geniuses in Albany. They can't be bothered pondering the abysmal quality of the exams they offer. That's neither here nor there. Still, they're willing to boldly make decisions at their Zoom meetings that, hopefully, give students, teachers, and parents that safety is paramount for them. 

Honestly, I'm not terribly disappointed. My least favorite activity, as a teacher, is proctoring tests. I sit at a desk facing the chemistry test-takers, like a scarecrow, and students ask me questions I don't even understand. Or maybe I'm in a history exam, and I actually understand the language and deduce the answers, but I'm not sure whether or not it's okay to answer this question. 

Probably my beginning ESL students are sitting in some room, answering ABCD questions about the History of Cement, and they're with some teacher who knows nothing whatsoever about cement. And honestly, how are they going to learn the fine points of just how much sand, how much gravel, and how much water it is you need to create a Roosevelt Island?

Perish forbid they let those of us who know and care for the students administer tests, let alone write them. We'd just pass everybody. That's why we so frequently get called in by our supervisors so they can complain we passed too many students. (And just in case you aren't a teacher, the most that really happens is never.)

Now don't get me wrong, like many people I'm glad these stupid tests won't waste the time of students that week. But that's not at all why the Regents stopped them. Again, they stopped them on the basis of safety. Just minutes ago, a colleague asked me, "Why is it too dangerous to take a Regents exam, but okay to sit in a classroom?"

That resonated with me. I'm in a half classroom limited to 23 students, but I'd argue that 15 ought to be the max for that space. Any more than that and I have to place cardboard dividers between them whenever I give a quiz or test. In fact, there are always more than that, and it's impossible for me to determine how two kids sitting at a table made for two kids entails any social distancing whatsoever. 

Omicron is spreading like wildfire. Over in the Situation Room, pictured just below,

a bunch of people sit around and decide whether or not dozens of COVID infections should close a school building. Maybe it's just a coincidence that all those people got sick. Also, who cares if almost half of them are staff (like in my school). Could it mean that adults are more likely to be symptomatic, and therefore more likely to be tested?

Of course not. The fact is we now won't have Regents examinations so it's perfectly safe for you to attend a school with dozens of COVID cases. Any cases that weren't reported simply do not exist. The testers come prepared to test 10% of the people in the building, all volunteers, perhaps the same ones each week, and the other 90% make no difference whatsoever. 

This is the logic teachers have been living with for decades. It's pretty frustrating just how many blithering idiots with money, like Mike Bloomberg and Bill Gates, appoint themselves experts. More frustrating is the blind acceptance by incurious journalists, even those in the faux-liberal NY Times. But hey, we're used to it.

And on the positive side, if we can survive this, we can likely survive anything.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

23 Covid Cases in My School--And Getting Tested in de Blasio World

There's a system in NYC, and here's what it is--in a school the size of mine, 20 cases of COVID will trigger an investigation. It goes to the mysterious Situation Room, which is overworked and unreachable by every account I've heard so far. Do they know about us? Hard to say. Who's in that room anyway? Could be six dogs in party hats for all I know. 

If they ever get around to an "investigation," what will it entail? I'm  picturing dogs playing poker, but I'm very partial to dogs. I'm far less partial to the DOE, and I have every expectation things will get worse under Eric Adams, the 6-million dollar man, wholly funded by charter schools.

Now it's tough to imagine exactly how the testing system can be worse. Bill de Blasio's COVID testing system is designed, from top to bottom, to know as little as possible and accomplish nothing. We're doing testing, but only testing those who volunteer. If they come in and don't believe in COVID, well, too bad for everyone. They spread the variant all over the place and there's nothing you can do about it. 

I was in close contact with one confirmed case in my school. No one notified me except the person I know. Evidently, in de Blasio world, coming into close contact with someone who tested positive is of no concern whatsoever. The fewer actual cases he or anyone else knows about, the better. Every undiscovered case, evidently, is a feather in his cap. I can't wait to watch him crash and burn in his gubernatorial campaign. 

It seemed a good idea to get tested. Now I could wait for the testers to come to my school. However, Mayor de Blasio, in his infinite wisdom, has determined that staff can only be tested after all the students who wish to be tested are. I'm also told that the geniuses who send the testers have only a limited number of tests, so if they're out, too bad for you. The last several times they arrived at my school, I was teaching and by the time I came down, they were done and gone.  

Anyway, my friend who tested positive told me there are some trailers by Queens Hospital on 164th St. I

went there after school and spent quite a bit of time trying to find them. When I did, there was a long, long line, but also a trailer that said DOE personnel with no line at all. I went in there, and  the "priority testing" was not much of a priority at all. A woman sent me to a short line next to the long line. She said I would have to register there. 

There were only five people in front of me, but they were taking people from the long line before the short line, and after a half hour only two people on the short line had made it in. It looked like getting a priority DOE test from Bill de Blasio was gonna take a good while. A guy came out and asked if anyone wanted a home test. He said anyone who took one wouldn't have to wait on line anymore. I raised my hand, and I was the only taker. He then asked how many I wanted, and I took two. 

The first one I opened had directions only in Spanish. I can actually handle Spanish, but it costs me more concentration than English. My second kit had instructions in English, so I went with that. I went step by step and waited 15 minutes. I set the kitchen timer and came back to write the blog. 15 minutes later, there was no nasty purple line on the bottom, which is negative. My wife used the Spanish directions, and also tested negative.

Now a science teacher I know tells me this only determines whether or not you are contagious, but that the other test is somehow more reliable. I'll take it if I can, but I'm not altogether interested in waiting on line. I love how de Blasio gives you a "priority test" and makes you wait on a slow line before you're entitled to go wait on another.

I'm sure of one thing, though--by the time the Situation Room conducts its "investigation," 23 cases will be nothing but a fond memory. Every day working teachers are vilified in the press, up to and including the "liberal" NY Times, but we go to work each and every day in a system run by people who are too stupid or self-serving to anticipate the inevitable.

Monday, December 20, 2021

It's COLD in Here!

One of the cool new things about the pandemic is we are to keep open windows in classrooms. That's problematic sometimes. For one thing, if the open window is next to you, or anyone in fact, someone's not gonna be happy. 

You can offer new seats to students, but often they feel they've earned their spot, for whatever reason. You don't want anyone to contract pneumonia on your watch.

One tactic in NYC school buildings is to open the top, as opposed to the bottom windows. Then the cold air is too high to actually blow on anyone directly. I'd been doing that for a few days and it seemed to work well. Of course, there are those unanticipated issues, and they invariably occur on the coldest, hottest, or most inconvenient days of the year. 

Today, for example, the heat in my classroom wasn't on at all. So with the window having been wide open all weekend, and the air-conditioner on before I unplugged it, the room was pretty goshdarn frigid. I had to walk back downstairs to get my winter coat. The students were not all that put out because they were all wearing their winter coats anyway. Except, of course, for the students who were too cool to wear winter coats. They were wearing, maybe, a hoodie. 

By the second period, people started answering their phones and I was able to find other rooms. The first one was perfect. It was very warm. I felt like Mayor de Blasio gave a crap about my students and me, but after the first hour in a 30 degree classroom, you tend to get a little hysterical. The second was pretty cold, what with the window open, but it did have heat. I saw potential.

I accepted a program with periods 1-4 in a row this semester. Generally I like it. I get almost all my actual work done pretty early, and can get all my prep done pretty efficiently. I even found time to take the sexual harassment seminar again. Evidently we don't learn things unless we hear the same thing year after year, ad infinitum. So why can't we all have one prep and just teach the same thing over and over?

Anyway, the attractiveness of the 1-4 schedule pales when you spend it running from one unfamiliar room to another and have no idea if or how the tech works in those rooms. I'm hoping I don't need to do that tomorrow.

But when you work for Bill de Blasio's DOE, it's all part of life's rich pageant. Thank goodness we have a new chancellor who's laser-focused on giving more tests, because that's what's important. Who cares if kids are sitting around freezing, or running from room to random room like headless chickens? Once we get all those tests in place, and make kids attend schools more hours, on Saturdays, and in the summer, they won't have time to worry about how cold or wet or hot it is. 

I kind of hope my heat turns on tomorrow. I expected this sort of thing back when I taught in the trailers. I never realized conditions in the building could be just as capricious. Maybe, with everyone freezing to death, this means Mayor de Blasio has finally established the equity he and Carranza were always talking about. 

Thank you for that, Mr. Mayor. I wish I were optimistic your successor was going to improve things. Alas, I think he'll make them worse. On the bright side, I don't anticipate anyone in Tweed having to worry about office climate.

And that just makes everything better.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

New Chancellor Should Send Unmasked Students Home (and Keep Them There)

I don't know about you, but I'm starting to get nervous. Clearly I'm late to the party, as over 10% of staff, so far, seems to be absent any recent given day. Yesterday, my wife made a lunch date for today at a nearby restaurant. I just called to cancel it. I don't plan to eat at any restaurants for a while now.  

The Netherlands is locked down, and it's a small world. NY State reported its highest single day total was last Friday.

Also, while I grew up on comic books, while I'm a sucker for super-hero movies, I won't be going to see Spider Man's latest at a theater. In fact, Spider Man could be doing us all a disservice by bringing in those huge crowds. 

I am, however, planning to go into work next week. I can wear a mask all day at work, and I've got a stockpile of Korean KF94 masks. I really recommend them. I don't trust the N95s, despite assurances from Amazon. I figure their most stringent quality control has gone toward sending Jeff Bezos into space. That would be fine, except for his intractable insistence on coming back. 

Last year, students who refused to wear masks were programmed for home instruction. That is a reasonable solution. This year, de Blasio went for some nonsense that includes talking to the student, perhaps other steps, and finally suspension. I don't know what suspension is where you are, but in our school it entails sitting in a desk in the dean's office for a few hours. I've been in the dean's office, and I've actually had to instruct suspended students to pull their masks over their noses. 

I've also heard of students being sent home for the day. I don't know what you were like at 15, but if you'd sent me home for the day, I'd have danced all the way home. I'd have been disappointed to return the next day. Let's make those unmasked kids happy and let them stay home. If their parents find that inconvenient, let them explain the Facts of COVID Life to them.

The only reasonable solution, in a newly dangerous environment, is to keep the unmasked out of school buildings, full stop. I'm not a fan of remote instruction, but the safety of students and staff needs to be paramount. That's unlikely to occur this week as it tends to place Bill de Blasio's gubernatorial hopes at risk. Anyone reading this probably knows my dog stands a better chance of getting elected governor than de Blasio does. (Of course, since I love my dog, I'm advising him to stay out of politics altogether.)

Keeping the unmasked out of overcrowded school buildings is common sense. Of course, common sense remains the least common of all the senses over at the DOE. The new genius chancellor is out there blabbering about testing. If he were worth his weight in paper clips, he'd be more worried about testing people for COVID. De Blasio's current program is a joke, and not a funny one. If you believe the stats about infections in schools, I've got a very impressive bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. 

If you want to measure for zip codes, you'll give the students chancellor's tests. You'll attest to their validity because they're no longer labeled "Common Core." But if you actually care about humans, Mr New Chancellor, you'll ramp up COVID testing to the levels they were at last year, and you'll place anyone reckless or stupid enough to decline testing in remote learning. 

Think about requiring vaccinations for anyone eligible who enters school buildings. Finally, if you ever decide you want someone Not Insane to work at Tweed, I can offer you a list of people who'd be happy to help.

Friday, December 17, 2021

A Multitude of Absurdities

I now realize that I have no idea what most of my students look like. Like most teachers, I've learned to recognize them from only the tops of their faces, or perhaps the shape of their glasses. I was startled by a student parent-teacher night who I didn't recognize at all, but because this parent had made an appointment, I knew who she was. However, if I saw her on the street I wouldn't remember. I have actually, mentally, filled in some of the faces somehow. Occasionally a student takes a drink of water, and shatters all my illusions. 

One day I had a student I didn't recognize. I had to look at my attendance sheet and figure it out by process of elimination. She had placed her hair in twin ponytails, thus obscuring the long straight hair by which I'd grown to identify her.

Yesterday, a student approached me in the hall and asked if I remembered her. She was with another student who I also didn't recognize. Then she pulled down her mask and asked, "How about now?" Then I knew who she was. But I know her as a full face and that's all I recognize. If I see her on the street with a mask, I won't know her. And I didn't recognize her friend, who also said she'd been in my class, at all. She didn't pull her mask down. To be polite, I acted as though I remembered her too. 

One of my issues this year is that I'm carrying too many things around. I feel like I must have a hundred dry-erase markers in my bag. I need other things, but I've squandered away most of my Teacher Choice cash on Korean masks and defogger for my glasses (with no idea whether or not defogger is an acceptable expense). My half classroom has a closet with two doors. It's locked, but if you pull the doors open, it surrenders instantly and you can get whatever you need. 

Mostly, what I need there are cardboard dividers. These are handy for days when you give quizzes or tests on the little tables we use. But one retired teacher has an entire drawer full of Useful Abandoned Crap. For example, one of my students pulled a page from a handout and asked for a stapler, which I don't carry. I looked in the box and voila! There were two. Also, I've got those dry-erase markers everywhere. It's getting so I can't find anything else under the pile of markers. 

I've been contemplating buying some sort of very large pencilcase with Teacher Choice, even though I've likely spent all my allotment. I decided, before venturing into Staples, to search the Useful Abandoned Crap. I found a box labeled "crayons" that looked perfect. I opened it and found maybe two dozen packs of unopened crayons. I dumped them in the drawer and appropriated the box. I've moved it to my drawer. (Of course if the retired teacher comes back, I'll return it.)

Every morning, I walk upstairs to my half-classroom. (While it sucks, I have my own classroom for the first time in my living memory.) I like to get there before the kids do, and anticipate whatever imminent disaster may be on the horizon. First thing I do when I come in is turn off the air conditioner. The power button on the AC does not turn it off for some reason. The remote used to work after four or five tries, but no longer does. So the only way left, now, is to climb up onto a table and unplug it. Say what you will about school custodians, but our PM guy never misses it, and plugs it back in every single night.

The most absurd thing in the school system, though, is the COVID count. It's smaller in the schools than the city. And of course it is. No one is tested unless they want to be. While they've finally allowed staff to be tested, they make us give them permission first, as though walking up as a consenting adult were not an explicit act of giving permission. I got instructions in my DOE email, but didn't understand them. I had to ask a third year teacher who's been my edtech guru ever since the apocalypse began.

I'm no genius, but I don't need to be in order to know that COVID testing is a scam designed to do nothing but relieve Bill de Blasio of his obligation to keep us safe. Christmas is coming, and though its aftermath may be predictable, it's also avoidable. Maybe not anymore, unfortunately.

I wish all my brother and sister teachers, laboring in this field of absurdity, a restful and happy weekend. Four more school days until winter break, and what's better than that?

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

UFT Delegate Assembly December 15, 2021--Medicare Advantage, Incoming Admin, Negotiating Committee

Michael Mulgrew--Welcomes us to last DA of year 2021. Wishes everyone happy holidays and good break. 

Federal--NYC getting unprecedented amount of money. BBB program will send money to NYC. Very hopeful we get social safety net package through. Working w Congress and Senators. Housing, homelessness important. 

State--Governor's race in flux. Meetings with NYSUT and state leaders with governor and her staff. Going through transition in NYC. Important people in Albany know what we and other teachers in state need. Recruitment and retention issue upstate, and coming to NYC at larger level. Many left during pandemic. Mandate had effect. Shortage across USA coming to NYC. State challenged by what to do with money. Unprecedented. Needs to be spent wisely. By next DA we'll have State of State and will know more. State right now in middle of redistricting process. Done by State Senate, now under Dem control. Right now primaries scheduled for June. Don't know how they will meet deadline. Need to know districts first. 

Class size--We will keep going. City Council moved last meeting to yesterday. Working with incoming city council and state officials. There is a state bill about class size. Parents want smaller class size. June 30 mayoral control sunsets. We've all had it. Facts and research should matter--not just one person. Doesn't work for us anymore. Needs to go away. Doesn't mean we go back to school boards. Is there something else we might want? Need a strategy to push in Albany. Not yet sure how we will lobby in Albany. Keeping pressure on.

COVID--Increase in cold weather after holidays. Not as high this year, but Christmas and New Year coming. People will visit, congregate. We can see another spike. Schools continue to be lowest place, but we're in transition. Test and trace, situation room becoming shaky. People are leaving. Conversations with both administrations--saying we need to shore up test and trace and situation room. Last year it was happening. Now not working.  Outgoing admin recognizes that one set of workers, pre K, have no access to testing, but have all unvaccinated students. We want them tested, and there is a resolution to do so.

Transitioning Comptroller's office. Even if comptroller is friend of ours, they don't get to tell us what to do with our money. We have trustees who will handle transition.

Chancellor to be--David Banks, has been in system long time. Has had good relationship. Wanted his schools to be public. But making comments about charters and evaluation. Deputy Chancellor Dan Weisburg was in favor of much of this. We try to do the right thing. Welcome with open arms and try to make it work, as CLs try to do. We also look for improvements. I approach this the same way. If it doesn't work out you have to do tough things. We approach every change that way. You can say what you want, we judge by actions. 

Chancellor said he wants to extend school in summer, extend school day. We do school in summer and Saturday already. Can he mandate it? No. But people are willing to do work on extra programs. We already have these things.

Parents Monday night said we love teachers, but challenges beyond anything they've seen before. We want to work on these issues. In terms of this chancellor and mayor, we fight for each other, for people who've dedicated lives to education or health care. We fight for our profession. If they want to fight, we fight. If they want to work with us, we work with them.

Talked about screening. Some screens are appropriate. Students who have an interest in program or study need it. Others ought not to be in place. That is DOE's job, not ours. If there are screens that cream students and deny opportunities, they shouldn't be there.

Workers in NYC--Caz Holloway coming back. Tried to give 20% premiums on health care in NYC. We took him to court and won. He tried to dismantle senior health care. Took him to court and won. Hope we don't have these fights, but we need to prepare.  Transitions are tricky. We will try to work together but must be ready to stand up.

Judge in Medicare Advantage gave decision. Understands implementation is important. I'm not allowed to talk about RFP process. Many people did, and that caused legal challenges. Premise was that every benefit our retirees currently have must be in new plan. Any saving would be used to enhance new benefits. We said unless that was in writing, it wasn't there. Went through it. Process was finally in place we thought it would be.

All sorts of agendas around these things. We knew health care for retirees was target for new admin. Knew they would pit in-service v. retirees. That's why we got involved. We needed to make sure it was right. Was much misinformation and lies, and that's why it ended up in legal process. We saw timelines too short, couldn't be implemented. We were finally able to put together a plan that does all we want, preserves and enhances benefits. Won't work unless implemented properly.

Told MLC we wouldn't support plan pooorly implemented. Wouldn't happen with UFT watching. Needed to go into court and say retirees would be held harmless and would be seamless. Was said in once voice. Judge said plan could begin April 1. Has set series of benchmarks for all to hit. To educate people, doctors, so they understand. Clearly put in no retiree shall be harmed. Very happy judge did this. 

Had to figure how to get plan out of harm's way of next admin and protect it. If you wait, as costs go up, they will come after it. Since we did this, Medicare up 13%. Person who tried to destroy it in position again, but plan is set for five years. Preserves what people have worked for. If the Lord will let me, I plan on being in that plan. Stop with the lies. 

You have to educate people. Of course we hate mayoral control, but we have to be smart about it, have political strategy around it. 

Joe Usach--Assistant Director Welfare Fund--We need to maintain premium free health benefits. We are remaining few who have access to it. Unheard of in this country. We have this through collective bargaining, Paramount to MLC that it remain. Didn't want premiums on retired members, like in other states, Suffolk County. 

What is difference between HMO and PPO? GHI is PPO while HIP is HMO. Both offer access, but HMOs smaller in size. Patient chooses primary care and referrals for specialists. Few co pays. PPOs offer freedom to receive care from anyone, no referrals. In network, copay, out you get scheduled payment. Medicare Advantage unfortunate terms. Many were HMO. Some PPO for larger groups. Can't ditch name or would lose fed subsidies.

Brand new plan. MLC said to city and all prospective carriers. We have plan our members like. Want this on top of existing plan. Empire and Emblem Health both provided access to network, If org has relationship with Empire or Emblem, in network. If they are Medicare provider, out of network, but doctors get exact same Medicare payment. Instead of doctor sending bill to Medicare and waiting for 20%, can put in one claim and get paid in full. Should alleviate anxiety. Members get enhanced benefit.

Plan comes without monthly premium. Basic health care premium free. Drug benefit 125 a month, less than they currently pay. Members get 65 back a month. 

Differences criticized. Prior authorizations--Some required. If you are on city plan, you're familiar with it. Insurance companies used to get paid to deny services. Now they want to prevent hospitalizations.

Copays--Some upset about them. Prior to pandemic, copays were scheduled 1/1/21. We fought not to switch payments during pandemic. Pushed to 1/1/22.

Privatization--Emblem and Empire provided health care to all of us for decades. Want to continue relationship.

Enhancements--Out of pocket max 1470. Drug coverage 125 as opposed to 151. Worldwide emergency travel coverage. Our retirees enjoy traveling. Transport and meals. Telehealth program. 

Members can stay in current plan for ancillary monthly charge. Right to return after one year. Mulgrew made sure our retirees had ability to freely go in and out as they choose. Opt out period will end on April 1, but will be continual opt in out until June 30. 

How are benefits changing? They are not. Welfare fund here to support all.

Mulgrew--Right now there is no cap on out of pocket. We have same program plus enhancements. All savings from program do not go back to city, but to health care stabilization fund. Hundreds of millions a year. Retained benefit with integrity, smartly. No matter who next admin is, they can't touch it.

Elections--Going into election season, call it silly season. We're all in world of toxic politics, need clear transparent process certified. We are biggest union in US with biggest target on back. Please know we have extremes like everyone. Makes us stronger, but scorched earth--asks people to think things through. 

Election committee has formed and voted. We always get challenged in our elections. Have made it clear that we do it correctly. If you want to change processes you have to do it early. Electronic voting sounds great but how do we make sure it survives challenge. NLRB has frowned upon this. We send stamped ballot to every person's house. Would like to see greater vote count. We've tried electronic in smaller elections, but actually drove down voting. Wants everyone to think of all we have to navigate. Whatever we do, it's our fight internally. All families have issues, but you don't burn your house down. We will abide by election committee decisions.

Health care task force--Recommends it be divisional and generational. Focus difference between 25 and 55. What is in best interests? UFT only union with concierge agreement with Memorial Sloan Kettering. We're not playing by anyone else's rules. Client never involved with cost conversation. We won't accept that. We are the buyer, and we're at the table. That has been our strategy. Some hospital CEOs get upset. We will need committee to deal with this. Will be time suck.

Negotiating committee--Last time we had largest in UFT history, every chapter participated. General demands, and individual bargaining unit demands are different. We want, again, to have even more participation.  Proportional by school, division, borough, and chapter. Decisions made by committee, not Mulgrew. 

Will be application on Google, and also by recommendation. 

There will be multiple training sessions. We do not negotiate in public. Confidential. Have to finalize demands and proposals. Will be whole group and individual training. Do not believe we will be setting a pattern this time. Other unions ahead of us likely to set pattern. Important in NYS and NYC, established precedent. 

Will survey entire membership. Chapters need to be surveyed. Had high participation in general and low in chapters last time. Want to fix that. 

Decide if you want to be part of this. Chapter leaders in functional chapters have to discuss with exec. boards. Different chapters may have different approaches. 

Will go out in January. 

Q--Can members get Powerpoint?

A--Yes. Last time someone broadcast DA. Don't want this.

Page on new health plan on retiree website. Mulgrew asks powerpoint go out to all UFT.

Spring break arbitration--Ugly as anticipated. We worked seven days we were supposed to be on vacation. What is value of those seven days. Don't want to hear CAR days. Nowhere near value. We want full value of seven days we worked. City made us work during vacation. Was not governor. Said he would look to remove funding, but never issued executive order. That governor said a lot of things. City is responsible. Not covered under emergency. They owe us full value for seven days we worked. 

Digital classroom--Guidance has gone out. Definition of closed classroom, partially closed. Will send out with Powerpoints. Principals do not read guidance. 

CLs--Stipend coming out for holidays, but we all know you can't do this work unless you're motivated and passionate. 

NYU nurses, front page heroes, no PPE, doing own stuff. CEOs put up commercials. Now, contract's up, They're a medical cost for bottom line, nothing else. Big struggle. How fast they forget. CEO needs 8 million bonus. Negotiating committee will see. You'll hear from people who screw special ed. students. 

Please relax during break. Make sure you take care of yourselves.

LeRoy Barr--Toy drive, collecting at UFT offices. Election notice going out in NY Teacher. Petitions available in next DA. Members need to update email and addresses. Next meeting 1/19. Happy holidays, new year, to UFT family. 

Mulgrew--You can also do paypal and cash. They are using voting buttons, evidently, at 52 Broadway. Mulgrew gives instructions. Does practice run. 5:32 PM. 57% don't like blue. 


Q--Memo from DOE about remote classrooms. Do we anticipate shutdowns?

A--Right now 2400 classrooms affected. Mayor doesn't want to talk about it but we've closed a school each week. Test and trace and situation room not performing. In conversations, de Blasio says he will hire people. Bring it up to incoming mayor and transition team too. Number 0.77 in schools. Lower than rest of city and state. Testing is early warning system. We need it for preK and 3K too.  We have breakthrough cases, but vaccines work. Highly immune compromised and unvaccinated get very ill. We don't want any more loss. Upsetting that we are used to being in pandemic.

Q--Usually attend remotely. Made point to come here. Was chaotic last time. We need to get good info out. What can we do, is there protocol for fair discussion?

A--During debate will hold people to time and topic. When we vote I will repeat twice what we're voting on. With clickers here, results will be quick. I was ineffective in classroom management last time. We owe it to delegation to do this orderly. Many delegates contacted me about that. 

Q--Payroll coding--School doesn't have coding for partial closure, or for when people went for mandated vaccines. How can I get codes?

A--DOE now has codes. We have brought it up. Now all complete. Will send out.

Q--When do you anticipate contract negotiations to commence? Is training for committee paid?

A--Right now it's volunteer. We want it done for right reason. We will see. Waiting on pattern. Will city want this done quickly for labor peace while they have money, or will they wait? If they wait, inflation works to our advantage. Not sure where this admin is going. Want committee prepped, ready to go. 

Q--Question of privilege--In event delegate makes personal insult, will this be ruled out of order, and stricken? What guidance can chair offer for repeated such actions?

A--Hoping it doesn't come up. If it does, we can have it stricken. Parliamentarian has process to strike someone from participating, but I think we're better than that. Have been in unions where such actions have been taken. 

Q--Substitutes--Lots of out of classroom teachers being pulled to sub. Admin says there are no subs. Understand it now, but are we short?

A--DOE will say there are 11,000. There are not. We incentivized them with 50 extra a day this year. This goes back to DOE, when we lost a thousand paras to mandate, and learned there were 4500 waiting to be processed. HR dept. job is to recruit workforce. They don't do it. Why don't we have a teach NY program, with enrollments dropping. We want HR dept. to go out and recruit. They recruited from other countries, surprised at how students acted. We got 1800 paras hired. This is not our job, but we had to do it. 


Greg Monty--this month--Member engagement--UFT will survey all members for contract demands, as well as individual chapters, committee formed soon. UFT will raise voices to fair contract. 

659 yes. 123 against. 157 in room yes 24 against. Passes. 

Zakia Rock--this month. Testing in preK. UFT will push city to institute regular testing for staff at preK centers.

762 yes 58 no  167 yes in room didn't hear against. 


Mulgrew--Will do shorter report next month. Hope I have redeemed myself in managing this thing, Main thing is you all do God's work. 6:04. Being a teacher will get you through the pearly gates. Please deposit clickers outside.

Monday, December 13, 2021

UFT Executive Board December 13, 2021--Spring Break, Medicare, Election Committee

LeRoy Barr--Welcomes us. 


Michael Mulgrew-- COVIHas been speaking with Banks, Adams, and Weisberg. Emphasizing not DOE from ten years ago. Need team ready to go on  January 2nd. 48% of student population has had first shot. 5-11 behind.  Even though surge has been going on, vaccines work. This is the way through this. Most very sick people unvaccinated or immune compromised. But we are having a surge. Anyone who works in a hospital will tell you. After holidays this seems to happen. Vaccinations may make it easier. 

Spring break--Arbitration going on. Five unions involved. We are first. Others will follow. Cannot go into details, but we have made clear we must receive the value of our work. Arbitrator concerned about money. Car day not equivalent. Two for one upon retirement. We need value of 7 days work, which we did. Expecting to know something by next week.

Medicare transition--Was hearing last week. Judge now agrees with us, that it's all about implementation. Plan is solid. We want retirees to have a smooth transition, and expect final order by next week. We expect a start date with benchmarks. Retirees have a health committee, and we need one for in service too. Union concerned things not true will be used to push people politically.

We have good health care. We work for it, pay for it, and it's better than what most Americans have. HIP is HMO, smaller than PPO, requires referral. PPO gives freedom to see anyone. In network payments defined, as are out of network payments. Most Medicare plans are HMOs. Ours is a PPO. We took senior plan, that most of our retirees use, and used it as model. Medicare Advantage is unfortunate term. Many horror stories, but not what we did. We had to use it to get access to federal subsidies. 

Inflation was becoming astronomical for us, and we might face premiums. Medicare has gone up 13% but we are locked in with this plan. Before 80% was paid for and 20% was reimburseable. Now this will be paid for. All access to doctors still the same. We cannot change the name, or we will lose access to subsidies. 

This plan custom build for our large PPO. We have access to all Blue Cross Blue Shield and GHI. Will be more doctors. Doesn't make a difference whether in or out of network, Patient may use any facility that accepts Medicare. Get exact reimbursement of federal government. In network doctors may provide higher degree of care, but anyone in Medicare reimbursed at Medicare rate. 

Prescription drug rider lowered to 125 a month as a result of this deal. 

People say we're privatizing health care. Ridiculous. Some procedures may require prior authorization. May need to demonstrate medical necessity. When members went on own, Medicare would sometimes bill member because not medically necessary. 

There is crazy rhetoric around privatization, but we're using same providers. Concerned with people using misinformation. 

We never had a cap for out of pocket expenses, now is 1470. We have worldwide foreign travel emergency coverage. We want retirees to travel. They earned it. Wellness program, meal deliveries, transportation to doctor visits included. 

We wanted to preserve all retirees have worked for. Didn't want it subject to political push because it's expensive. All savings go into stabilization fund. Supports PICA program, hearing aids. We knew we could design our own program, give same benefits, enhance them, and get 600 million dollars a year to go into stabilization. This is UFT doing its job smart. We are all going to retire someday. We all want that health plan. All of our medical things will be covered for at least five years now. 

Q--Retirees say they will opt out and pay a few hundred. Should they?

A--Why should they pay for what they could get for free? I wouldn't.

All reimbursements are from Welfare Fund and will stay the same. Thanks people who worked on it. Once we realized we could design our own plan, know people would have to deal with us--Our retirees have options. They can stay in their old plan or switch right back into old one. 

Wishes us happy holidays. This is toughest year in education ever. Still not through pandemic, and will have new transition with many Bloomberg people coming back. We will try to work with everyone. If they want to fight, we will fight. Thanks us for doing this work. 

Q--Colocated school, one went home for ten days. Parents want to know why one was closed and one wasn't with shared facilities. Situation room couldn't be reached today. Would like more transparency. 

A--Situation room line was down today. That was true citywide. Quarantines based on exposure. If you share space, children not necessarily exposed. At next Exec. Board, we will have someone run through orders and explain. 

Reports from districts--

Sean ?--SI had in person SRP celebration. 

Karen Alford--Thanks for all toys coming in. Please bring to DA or borough offices. Online shopping, ship to 52 Bway. 

Hector Ruiz--UFT Hispanic Affairs committee held fundraiser last Wed. Raised 2500 for scholarships. Thanks Pride committee African American committee;

?--Deadline for Shanker scholarship Jan. 15. Students need to go to website print out application. 

Election Committee--Carl Cambria--Thanks board for confirming committee. Had good meeting. Approved election calendar, NY teacher election notices, campaign ads, petition release date Jan. 19. Due back Feb 18. Ballots mailed April 8, counted May 10. Election notice approved. Similar to last one. Clarification--Note electronic signatures NOT accepted.

Elementary school have 12 Exec. Board members, up one,  and MS gets four, down one, based on enrollment. 

UFT ID may be used on petitions, candidate statements. 

Balloting--majority of committee recommends it's done via mail. Was not unanimous, but every other portion was. 

Michael Shulman--Thanks LeRoy Barr for invitation. Thanks Carl Cambria for chairing. Wants to discuss balloting. Favors voting electronically due to low voter turnout. That is key. Not a caucus issue. Big issue is getting membership to participate. Important to be proud of union democracy. We are not moving with the times. About 25% of our membership vote. That is unacceptable. There have been proposals to GOTV, but we are lagging. 

Since pandemic, our union uses secure electronic voting for DA, for CL, for SBOs. Not a radical new proposal. Other public sector unions doing this. We have capability, not as sole source. We could use both. If someone votes both, we could distinguish which came first and that would take precedence. 

I come from older generation. I believe many younger teachers use electronic voting. Snail mail alien to them. 

Akeel Williams--As far as us moving toward electronic voting, no real proof that it will guarantee more turnout. Maybe we could do this for next election cycle. Wouldn't be vetted and ready for Spring. 

?--During pandemic used electronic voting for chapters. No evidence it increased participation. 

Mike Schirtzer--Agrees with Shulman. PSC has option of online voting. We are in a battle to enfranchise folks who lost right to vote. Eric Adams is looking to union bust. Need to show we are strongest and best union. DA and Town Hall numbers are staggering. We trust AAA to get it right. Teachers under 30 don't know where mailboxes are. Need to open options. 

Pat Crispino--Respectfully disagrees. Today got email from DOE email, though everyone knows not to do this. We will be repping our members who use DOE apparatus when teaching. Opposes change.

Rashad Brown--Opposes recommended change. Electronic voting has had issues. Many don't get emails or text. Not there yet. 

Servia Silva--Opposes change. Had lower participation for SBOs and CL elections. Paper had much more. Calendar was voted on.

Mike Sill?--We don't know what's coming with new admin, or pandemic. Moment of instability not good to make change. Election season already begun. If we face hostile admin, we don't want voting called into question. Not time to experiment. 

Tom Murphy--Sympathetic to anything that will increase turnout. Retirees had larger turnout because of controversial issue. To get vote out, we should campaign. 

Motion carries overwhelmingly. We are adjourned 7:01 PM

Monday, December 06, 2021

UFT Executive Board December 6, 2021--New York, New York, A Heckuva Town, the COVID's Up and De Blasio's Down

LeRoy Barr--Welcomes us. 


Barr--Board will meet next Monday the 13th. 

Reports from Districts--Janella Hinds--Last HS meeting members asked for Q and A on safety. Reached out to health and safety colleagues, will hold Q and A Monday before next Exec. Board for HS members.

Karen Alford--Reminds everyone about Toy Drive-bring gifts to DA next week. Can mail or drop off gifts to UFT or district offices, or contribute.

Michael Mulgrew--Transition moving quickly. De Blasio out at end of month. Bloomberg people returning to DOE. Doesn't think it will resonate very well. Bloomberg's money to charters didn't resonate very well. We know what to do if they start something. Parents want schools safe, good education and local public schools. We will see what happens. Don't think education will be big push at beginning. Will accentuate safety and homeless situation. 

COVID numbers going up. Closing schools and many classrooms. Still dominant strain, not new one. City agreed to again test adults. Mandating any child with outside school activities to be vaccinated, and over 5 must be vaccinated to go to public places. 

Medicare Advantage will go to judge on Wednesday. Judge concerned with implementation. We have full confidence in plan. UFT position is it cannot start January 1st, we want very smooth transition. If it takes extra time, so be it. Has been bad info about that.

Over 500 schools pushed for class size. Did social media push last week. Uphill battle, but if we don't get it right now, we're not stopping. We have data, DFE, federal money. Our kids need same class sizes as rest of state. Ours are 30% higher. This is an equity issue. Pols who talk equity need to support us. Incoming admin worried about costs, exaggerated by de Blasio admin. We will meet with anyone to alleviate fears.

State legislative session, have started meetings. Quite positive with governor's office and legislature. We're all starting to deal with shortage areas. Rest of state dealing with it already. Education school numbers down dramatically. 

We will have a commercial about class sizes. Embargoed until 5 AM tomorrow. Shows commercial. Will be up until December 16th. Having strong coalition with parents is pivotal. 


No questions. 

Reports from Districts continued--

Michael Sill-Vaccine mandate--People may re-appeal denials of religious requests by order of court. Said they may have had appeals decided on constitutionally suspect grounds. Working on getting that open for people who did not appeal once. Looking to widen opportunities.

Payments for Bronx Plan were suspended last year. Had convo with /DOE on meaning of suspended. We said they could only be postponed. Anyone eligible last year will get all three payments, plus first for this year on December 16.  We will help anyone who misses it.

Mary Jo Ginese--Special Ed. Recovery rollout was to supplement IEP, not supplant it. However, they did not need to mimic mandates. Teams were to sit down and categorize students into three priority categories. Some students didn't have service providers. Group size should not exceed six. If they are larger, please let me know. Case managers were responsible, and were given up to two hours to do recovery notice. Transportation issue was major problem with shortages. Busing impacted. To compensate, schools were told to give Metro Cards or travel reimbursement. School allocation memo sent out. 

Many principals didn't follow guidance, tried to dictate when people could do it or how much money they could get. Was case manager discretion. Because of this, DOE started to change design of program. Was supposed to be in person, after schools. 30 schools fully remote now, others blended or in person. Postings came out piecemeal, was difficult. Not enough special ed. teachers, so posted for gen. ed. content teachers and have borough postings. All on UFT website under teaching. 

Moving forward, issue of transpiration addressed with emergency bus contracts. Bus routes being looked at as of today, but don't know when contracts will be finalized and busing will be in effect yet. 

For interventions, will be function in stars. Busing will be programmed into ATS. Not sure if there will be second cycle. Will have to figure out whether recovery is helping students make gains. We don't want all students to need compensatory services if recovery can close learning gap. Next special ed. Town Hall December 16. if you have questions. If schools want more teachers or paras trained contact us and we will help. 

Barr--Election committee--General election Spring. Committee will talk dates, form and process. Presents names. 

Motion to put forth these names.


Q about purview of committee.

Barr--Has to go over dates, candidate statements, election dates, proper functioning of election and NLRB regs. Will discuss who runs it. Will report back to us. 

Passes unanimously. 

We are adjourned 6:33 PM.

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Another Blogger's Day Off...

 ...but you can read a piece I wrote about the terrible lack of COVID protection Mayor de Blasio offers here in Fun City.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Those Zany DOE Investigators and Their Wacky Antics

One great benefit of tenure is you are not compelled to answer the people DOE sends to talk to you. While you can refuse them outright, they just go on without you. You can, however, demand representation before speaking with them.

There are a whole lot of people in suits who come from the DOE, or claim to be independent. They seem to be very knowledgeable about the perfidy of teachers, and are expert on all the awful things your colleagues appear to have perpetrated. Hey, they could be telling the truth, but who really knows?

For me, the problem with SCI, or OEO, or any of the groups that are either affiliated or semi-affiliated with the DOE is they don't have much to show in the way of integrity. There are rules they're supposed to follow. For example, they have time limits in which to bring charges. I have never seen OEO bring charges in a timely fashion. This is ridiculous, because when the principal needs to investigate for a letter in file, he can do so within days. OEO can't do it in six months, and often takes years. Because they can no longer issue file letters, they issue "non-file letters" and go after people anyway, because regulations, shmegulations.

And then there are those cases brought up because the principal has a personal vendetta against someone. For example, my late friend Chaz was in the rubber room for years over something that likely merited nothing beyond a verbal caution. Over at CPE1, the principal placed both the chapter leader and delegate on charges for the offense of doing their jobs, but both were restored after a few very uncomfortable months. That abusive principal, I'm happy to say, was ultimately less fortunate.

I know other teachers who were sent to the rubber room over what amounted to nothing, and sat there agonizing for months waiting to be released. I've spent hours on the telephone with them, telling them to be patient, but people simply can't be patient with the Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. In fairness, I've also known teachers who've done all sorts of things I'd much rather not have known about. In fact, one of the most egregious cases I've ever heard in my life was released from a 3020a hearing with no penalty, no anything, So that can happen too.

Nonetheless for me, when OEO or SCI claims this or that happened, my attitude is maybe it did and maybe it did not. I don't trust them at all.  I would not believe them for a moment if they told me they weren't after me, and just wanted to talk about someone else. I know a paraprofessional who believed that particular line He spoke to them after having been personally warned otherwise from me. This para was fired days later. (Of course, it's a little more complicated to fire a teacher than a paraprofessional.)

Regardless, it's very important to avail yourself of the right to representation when the suits come to your school. I tell members to say, "Please give me your card. I'd be happy to speak with you as soon as I have representation." I also tell them to call me, even in my classroom, if they want me to say it for them. I'm amazed at some responses agency people give us.

Once, a guy from SCI came in. A member, unwilling to speak to him, had called me down. When I told him to give us his card and the member would be happy to speak as soon as she had representation, he challenged me.

"Do you even know what this is about?"


"Do you care what it's about?"

"Protocol is the same regardless."

At this point, the SCI guy started screaming bloody murder. As he did so, the member asked me to step out so she could tell me what it was about. Turned out it was something very disturbing. It didn't involve the member, except for her having knowledge of it. Still, I don't trust these guys any farther than I can throw them. Who's to say they wouldn't blame her for things that were out of her control, or for not coming forward at the precisely correct moment? I told her to wait until we arranged representation.

I went back. I told the guy I now understood what the issue was. He nodded, expecting full compliance, and heatedly asked if she was ready to talk. He was a creep and I decided to make him angry.

I calmly answered, "Please give us your card, and she'll be happy to speak with you as soon as she has representation."

The guy started screaming again, a little louder this time. I didn't care about kids! All I cared about was protecting teachers! In fact, I care a lot about protecting teachers. It's a big part of being a chapter leader. There are rules, and even bellicose ex-cops in SCI have to follow them. I knew this guy didn't give a damn about my colleague, and his intent was bullying us into giving up her rights. Too bad for him. She didn't.

I sent a letter to a bunch of people, and Michael Mulgrew ended up writing to SCI to complain about their abuse of working UFT members.

As for the person who was really in trouble, having evidently, or at least allegedly done something very unsavory--this person resigned. Apparently by doing so, this person evaded judgment. Last I heard, the person got a job as a teacher in Long Island. So much for the efficiency and ultimate reach of SCI justice.  

Don't let these bullies intimidate you. Your voice is all you have. If you give it up, you may as well get used to being nobody. As unionists, part of our job is to set an example. We can't afford to be nobodies at work. Our goal is to make other people more like us, as opposed to following in the footsteps of Walmart associates.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Today, I'm Thankful

This year, I'm thankful for family and friends, as always. I'm thankful for my handsome buddy, at left, who brings me unexpected joy by making himself at home in my fiddle case, and hanging with me no matter what tedious activity I choose for myself. (For the record, that crate has sat there for years, but we only enclosed him in it a few hours the first week we had him.) 

I'm thankful for great colleagues who stood with me during 12 years as chapter leader, an impossible job. I'm thankful for my bold colleague Samia Wattoo who took over the position, and from everything I see, will do very well in it. I'm thankful for an AP who is super-smart, and who actually has great teaching ideas when my colleagues and I are at a loose end.

I'm thankful for the fiddle you can't see, which kept me occupied during the endless period of Zoom teaching. I'm extremely thankful to be teaching in person this year, and reaching a whole lot more kids than I did back when they could hide behind cat pictures and go back to sleep. (They're kids, and I don't much blame them. I'd likely have done the same at that age. Still, I hated it.)

For all its flaws, I'm very thankful to be union. I've said it before and I'll say it again--We are moving very much against the tide in the USA by hanging together. Union numbers in our country have plummeted since Ronald Reagan became President. He may be a hero to some, but not to me. 

I've been teaching almost 37 years. I almost retired last year, and I may actually do so this year. These days, very few Americans have the luxury of a fixed pension, an important option for working people, and an option that's been falling off a veritable cliff for decades. If I retire, and if you do, we're unlikely to be taking jobs at Burger King in order to make ends meet. Be very thankful for that.

I'm also grateful for the voice we have at our work. If your school leader decides to violate our Collective Bargaining Agreement, or any of a multitude of regulations contained elsewhere, we have options. We can file grievances, which generally take forever, but chapter leaders now have the option of operational complaints. I'm thankful for people in the press who will report the excesses of insane school leaders, and who act as a check against their abuses, many of which they seem to have studied in Bloomberg's Leadership Academy.

Happily, there are some people in DOE who are not insane, and who will curb the dictatorial tendencies of school leaders run amuck. The system isn't perfect, but none is, and it's much improved over the last few years. I'm thankful for Debbie Poulos and James Cochran, who largely made this possible. I'm thankful for Queens UFT Rep. Amy Arundell, who will not like that I mention her, but who is always around to help me and my colleagues.

I'm thankful for the pushback against the racist, anti-labor, anti-American MAGA movement. I'm thankful that many Americans are immune to the brainwashing efforts of Fox News. I'm thankful we tossed out the lunatic who won the Presidential election in 2016. 

This will not be an easy year. We have a new mayor who has been bought and paid for by charter interests. While he ostensibly supports union, he seems to support non-union options for education. Make no mistake, with very rare exceptions, charter teachers do not work under the same conditions we do. I have friends who work in charters, or who have done so, and job security is not a thing for them. They don't think twice about leaving one place in a few years and moving on to another. We have powerful enemies, and we will need to be ready for them. 

But we survived Bloomberg, and I'm thankful for that. We will survive Adams too. Mayors come and go, but we've stood strong through all of them. Even as de Blasio proved a huge disappointment, we moved forward with parental leave. Perhaps we'll even make progress on class size this year. I'll be very thankful for that. After years of nonsensical reforminess, even from our ostensible allies, it would be fantastic to do something real for our students, as opposed to tests that waste their time and target their teachers. 

We will move forward, and we will make our union stronger and better, one way or another. I'm thankful for possibilities. I wish you and yours a joyous holiday. 

I'm thankful and happy we get a few days to reflect and relax, and I very much hope you are too!

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

DOE--High Standards for Teachers, None for Themselves

It's tough to estimate the stupidity of the DOE. Every time you think they've hit a new low, they do something new and unexpected. You may have thought the Trump administration was the most inept and inane bunch of lunatics you've ever seen, but they were finished after four years. The DOE just keeps barreling ahead, with no end in sight.

I'm now embarrassed to admit that I supported de Blasio from the beginning during his first run. UFT originally supported some guy who had told the NY Daily News that we shouldn't get the raises NYPD and FDNY had gotten under Bloomberg. The city couldn't afford them for us. This was they guy who ran against Bloomberg term 3, and we didn't take sides during that election. (Too bad, because we may have been able to avoid not only four more years of Bloomberg, but also antagonizing that guy, though he seemed to be lacking a moral compass. Of course, so did we.)

De Blasio, much to my chagrin, left Bloomberg's DOE entirely intact. For years I went to step 2 grievance hearings that we lost no matter how ridiculous administration's case was. And now, in their infinite wisdom, they've introduced a 42 question checklist for each student. There is no "cannot comment" option on any of these questions. You have to give detailed answers for each student. Now if I were an elementary teacher, seeing these students all day, I may have been able to give accurate answers. As it is, I gave it my best guesses and called it a day (a long one, after answering all those questions).

If the DOE thinks they will glean useful information from these surveys, I've overestimated their intelligence, not an easy thing to do. Personally, I doubt these surveys will even be looked at, let alone acted upon. But we shall see.

Meanwhile, here on earth, the DOE has decided it is no longer going to offer COVID tests to vaccinated staff members. Evidently the DOE has determined breakthrough infections do not exist in New York City, or more likely has simply chosen to ignore them. And why not? Learning about actual infections would screw up Mayor de Blasio's all-important COVID stats. Our ostensibly liberal mayor has taken a page from Donald Trump and determined it's not the COVID that's the issue, but rather the testing. If there is less testing, there will be less COVID, full stop.

The fact is the city's COVID testing was already ridiculous. The goal was to test 10% of the population. However, the tested population was entirely self-selected and no one was compelled to actually take the test. So any student who didn't have permission to be tested, was not. And any student or staff who had symptoms, but didn't want to know about that bad old COVID, could simply ignore it, go to school, and infect everyone else. 

Now, in another stroke of genius, de Blasio has decided he doesn't want to hear about infected adults, so he's stopped allowing them to be tested. It's perfect for him. Even with infections on the rise, they aren't on the rise as much, because adults are not tested. Let's ignore the recent surge in infections, pretend we don't need to check carefully, and screw erring on the side of caution! Bill de Blasio wants to be governor, and if people need to get sick and die to make that more likely, well, so be it. 

Our job is to be role models. You'd think the people who run the DOE should lead by example. Think again. Those of us familiar with the DOE know exactly what to expect. Like Donald Trump, they blame everyone else, mostly UFT, and take no personal responsibility. That's the way it's always been, and incoming Eric Adams, bought and paid for by Eva Moskowitz's BFFs, is highly unlikely to change that. For my money, he'll make it worse.

But I'd be more than pleased to see him prove me wrong.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

PS 333 Votes No Confidence in Principal Claire Lowenstein

I'm happy to report that the parents, guardians, faculty and staff at PS 333 has had it with their abusive principal and is telling the world about it. I've posted about them before and this was just sent to me. You may see all of my PS 333 stories via this link. From all I've heard, this principal has chutzpah not generally seem this side of Mike Bloomberg.

There are some stories I've reported from there and others I've been unable to report as per the requests of those affected, or more accurately afflicted by this school leader.

 I'm told Principal Claire (Only first names are used in her school, as per her edict.) had a rabbi protecting her, but said rabbi has gone the way of the dodo.  Here's the staff's announcement. I wish them the best of luck even as the rats in de Blasio's rapidly sinking DOE ship decide exactly where best to jump.

Dear P.S. 333 - Manhattan School for Children Parents, Guardians, Faculty and Staff:

Here is the 'Final P.S. 333 "No Confidence Vote" Tally'. These results are current as of 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, on Friday, November 12, 2021, whereas all voting has now officially closed:
  • A total of forty-seven (47) current P.S. 333 staff-members expressed a clear vote of "No Confidence" in Principal Claire Lowenstein's continued leadership of P.S. 333 - Manhattan School for Children.
  • A total of twenty-two (22) current P.S. 333 staff-members declined to participate in the "No Confidence Vote" and did not submit a ballot.
  • Zero (0) current P.S. 333 staff-members explicitly expressed their continued support for Principal Claire Lowenstein. Four (4) P.S. 333 staff-members submitted blank ballots, eight (8) staff-members expressed one or more serious concerns and/or doubts about Principal Claire Lowenstein's leadership on their ballots (but they did not go the full-length of actually casting a vote of "No Confidence"), and one (1) staff-member did not explicitly express his/her/their continued support for Principal Claire Lowenstein, and he/she/they wrote-in on the ballot: "[Principal] Claire [Lowenstein] is not perfect, but I don't think that the students are unsafe."
  • A total of eighty-five (85) "No Confidence Vote" ballots were cast by current P.S. 333 parents & legal guardians (one ballot per child), in which the parent(s) & legal guardian(s) expressed a clear vote of "No Confidence" in Principal Claire Lowenstein's continued leadership of P.S. 333 - Manhattan School for Children.
  • A total of six (6) ballots were cast by current P.S. 333 parents & legal guardians (one ballot per child), in which these six (6) parent(s) & legal guardian(s) did not express a clear "Vote of No Confidence" in Principal Claire Lowenstein's continued leadership of P.S. 333 - Manhattan School for Children, and to the contrary, these same six (6) P.S. 333 parent(s)' & legal guardian(s)' ballots actually expressed their positive affirmation and/or their ongoing support for Principal Claire Lowenstein's continued leadership as the principal of P.S. 333 - Manhattan School for Children.
  • Three (3) ballots were cast by current P.S. 333 parents & legal guardians (one ballot per child), in which these three (3) parent(s) & legal guardian(s) did not express a clear "Vote of No Confidence" in Principal Claire Lowenstein's continued leadership of P.S. 333 - Manhattan School for Children, but these same three (3) parent(s) & legal guardian(s) also did not explicitly express their continued support for Principal Claire Lowenstein.
  • GRAND TOTAL: Out of the combined one hundred fifty-four (154) "No Confidence Vote" total ballots that were cast by current P.S. 333 staff-members, as well as by current P.S. 333 parents & legal guardians (one ballot per child), one hundred thirty-two (132) of these ballots expressed a clear vote of "No Confidence" in Principal Claire Lowenstein's continued leadership of P.S. 333 - Manhattan School for Children, which is approximately 86% of all the "No Confidence Vote" ballots that have been cast on November 10, November 11, and on November 12 by the P.S. 333 school community.

The Concerned Parents, Guardians, Faculty and Staff of P.S. 333 - Manhattan School for Children

Related: This is also covered in the NY Post today. Here's an excerpt:

Principal Claire Lowenstein has lost the support and respect of parents, staff and the larger PS 333 community. She has failed to put the needs of the children first, and her divisive leadership has hurt students and faculty alike,” said teacher Raphael Tomkin, the school’s chapter leader for the United Federation of Teachers. 

Friday, November 19, 2021

Remote Parent Teacher Conferences

In COVID times, so much is new, and so much is odd. It's not actually a bad idea to do parent conferences remotely. There's nothing I can tell parents face to face that I can't tell them on a Zoom conference. For me at least, as I come in ridiculously early, it saves me the trouble of driving home much later than I'd like. It was  a plus that we were off on Veteran's Day after a night of conferences.

I teach the same group of students in various different classes this year, so I had very few actual conferences. When you teach newcomers, parents are reluctant to come in. If my students have issues with English, their parents almost certainly have even more. The older you are, the longer it takes to learn a language, and the more difficult it is. We're programmed to learn language as children, and the older we get, the more that program deteriorates.

Last year, I was utterly demoralized by teaching remotely. I'm not saying it was a bad idea. Safety and health trump absolutely everything. Without the vaccine, the risk of coming into school was absolutely unacceptable. Before the vaccine, no one at all should have come in. 

But you have to get used to online instruction. The thing I never got used to was seeing the cat icons in lieu of my students. That's because, for many of them, I'd call their names and get no response, ever. It's not hard to imagine a teenager turning on a computer to simulate attendance, then turning the sound down and going back to sleep, or playing a video game, or going to the park or doing any number of things.

One advantage you have when you're in person is you can say, hey, wake up. Or hey, you can't sit and text during class. Taking it a step further, you can actually view student work and make specific suggestions to improve it. I always figure that's what they pay me for. 

So when you're online, it's frustrating. You're relegated to be the teacher who sits at the desk, reads the paper, or muses about the vagaries of existence. All you can do is sit there. I did do a few other things. My faithful dog sat with me every moment I taught, and I petted him a lot. Sometimes I picked him up, especially when he was barking. That sometimes stimulated conversation, always good in a language class.

Anyway, I was pretty shocked to have a parent come for a conference and not turn on the camera. I spoke to some colleagues who saw the same thing. I find that extremely rude. It's one thing for a kid who just woke up to not want to show herself, but quite another for an adult to sit behind an icon. I found it bizarre, as did others. 

A colleague told me when that happened to her, she said, "I can't see you," and the parents instantly turned on their cameras. I wish I had thought of that. Of course, the parents who came to see me were likely timid because of their lack of English ability, and that may have hindered their willingness to participate.

In the case of people who can handle English, IMHO, it's outright rude not to show your face. I couldn't imagine not showing mine. Were that the case, we could simply conduct conferences via email. A lot of my colleagues who were slammed would be happy with that. You wouldn't have to worry about the parents who insist on staying longer than their allotted time.

I thought students, except in extreme cases, should have been required to show themselves on camera last year. I think parents, if they expect you to speak with them, should at least reciprocate in showing their faces. It's common courtesy, alas, the least common of all.