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Brooklyn Paper: Teachers protest for more COVID-19 testing and safer conditions


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They’re giving the mayor an F!

Dozens of public school teachers marched through Downtown Brooklyn on Monday evening to demand safer working conditions as in-person classes resume, arguing that educators needed more testing access to stay safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I’m scared as a New Yorker, because the [Department of Education] is not showing it has the capacity to be able to do [adequate testing], and I think they have to be honest and stop lying to us,” said Brooklyn school teacher Sarah Yorra at the rally, which started at the Department’s Court Street offices and headed to Borough Hall.

City officials began readmitting public school students by age groupings on Sept. 21, with Pre-K and special needs pupils beginning classes first. Elementary aged students will begin on Sept. 28, and both middle and high school students are slated to start in-person on Oct. 1. 

While students have the option to learn fully online, those young scholars who do physically attend classes will go on a staggered schedule — spending between one and three days inside a classroom, and the other days learning remote. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio and DOE officials had previously said they would not attempt to reopen schools if the citywide positivity rate for COVID-19 tests was above 3 percent — and, while it currently sits at around 1.2 percent across the five boroughs, some areas have seen higher numbers.  

Yorra, who teaches English language in the 11204 zip code near Bensonhurst, where the positive infection rate has hovered around 3 percent for several weeks, said she had little confidence that city officials are prepared for the phased return of classes. 

“All we are asking is for the testing that you promised would keep us all safe, because if the city can’t get it together and come and test in one zip code — one zip code — what’s going to happen when we’re over 3 percent in five zip codes,” she said.

A teacher protesting outside Borough Hall on Sept. 21.Photo by Kevin Duggan

The following day, de Blasio announced that there was an uptick in coronavirus cases in three neighborhoods near Yorra’s zip code — Midwood, Borough Park, and Flatbush — along with Williamsburg and parts of Queens.

Hizzoner added at his Sept. 22 press conference that the city would deploy more testing in response to the uptick — similarly to another increase in Sunset Park in August, where the infection rate jumped to a worrisome 7 percent.

Some Brooklyn school teachers worried that ventilation in school buildings would cause significant problems, including one Fort Greene instructor slamming schools Chancellor Richard Carranza and United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew for their guidelines, which the teacher called “not acceptable.”

“Carranza and Mulgrew have agreed that keeping a window open 2 inches constitutes sufficient ventilation for a room, and that’s terrible, especially if more ventilation is possible. To settle for this and to be asked to settle for this is not acceptable,” said Adam Stevens, who is also a UFT delegate for his school building.

One East Flatbush educator said that the ongoing staff shortages will leave students at risk across the city.

“You can’t have classrooms without teachers in them, you can’t have students unsupervised no matter how small the classes are,” said Danielle Bullock, an arts teacher.

Brooklyn Paper