New York City’s powerful teachers’ union threatened Wednesday to strike unless every student and teacher is tested for COVID-19 before returning to in-person learning—a task that would make it impossible to reopen the city’s public schools as planned.
“The minute we feel the mayor is trying to force people into an unsafe school, we go,” said Michael Mulgrew, president of United Federation of Teachers (UFT), which represents some 95,000 public school employees. Mulgrew issued an ultimatum at a press conference, laying out a series of demands each of New York City’s 1,700 public schools must meet in order to reopen this fall.
Besides things like personal protective equipment, social distancing, and strict entry and exit procedures, the UFT’s biggest demand is that every single student, educator and staff member must go through a CCP virus antibody test and have a negative result 10 days before they return to their schools. Those tested positive for the virus will have to teach or learn remotely. The union estimates that 700,000 students are planning to attend in-person classes at least one to three days a week, while some 50,000 teachers are expected to resume teaching in school buildings.
Mulgrew acknowledged that a test at such an massive scale could delay Mayor Bill de Blasio’s planned Sept. 10 reopening by a month. If schools do reopen without delay, he claimed, “It might be one of the biggest debacles in the history of the city.”
“If all the schools open on Sept. 10, and everything that we just laid out is not in place, the union is prepared to go to court or go on strike, if we need to,” he said.
The city’s public school system dismissed the UFT’s warning, calling it “fear mongering.”
“The UFT is fear mongering,” Miranda Barbot, spokeswoman of New York City Public Schools, wrote on Twitter. “When we see a full plan that is rooted in data and science, we’ll review it—until then, it seems like they just don’t want to say the quiet part out loud: they don’t want to open schools at all for students and families.”
De Blasio, who has been closely working with the UFT over the past months but now faces mounting pressure from the union to delay the start of in-person learning, pointed out that public employees can be punished for striking under the state law.
“Any union leader who talks about doing something illegal should really think twice about what he’s saying,” the Democratic mayor said Wednesday during a press conference. “We’ve been working in good faith with the unions for months. We’re going to keep working with them regardless of what they say because we care more about kids and parents than these games.”