A major teachers’ union representing most of the teachers in New York City protested and threatened litigation over Mayor Eric Adams’ decision to continue in-person learning this week despite a surge in Covid-19 cases.
United Federation of Teachers member Lydia Howrilka, who is also a part of a UFT caucus called UFT Solidarity, filed a lawsuit Sunday asking a judge for an emergency order to stop in-person schooling and make classes temporarily remote again in the city. UFT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, one of the largest teachers’ union in the country.
The petition garnered widespread support from teachers, many of whom say the city’s approach to testing has been insufficient. Although Adams has made testing more accessible and available for students and faculty amid the Omicron wave, Howrilka argued that he should have mandated a testing regime for schools.
“Two thousand parents and educators have signed on in support and support the lawsuit. I know so many teachers who got sick over the Christmas break or have been sick since the Christmas break. So many kids have gotten sick. So like, I really have no idea what the heck we’re gonna be walking into tomorrow,” Howrilka told CBS New York. “If the mayor wanted do it right, he should have made the testing to be opt out. That means you, you are automatically getting tested unless your parent goes out of their way and opts you out.”
Howrilka proposed testing all students and staff and keeping schools closed in the interim.
“…we advised the mayor today that we should go remote for at least a couple of days, because we need to really figure out where we’re at in staffing capacity,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew told the outlet. “Teachers are informing us, um, that they cannot come in. Their child tested positive. They tested positive. We’ve seen COVID over the holidays that we never saw before.”
While the virus has spread rapidly across all boroughs, Adams insisted that the school system must proceed with in-person instruction for the sake of students and that Covid-19 can still be mitigated with that.
“The stats are clear. The safest place for children is inside a school. The numbers of transmissions are low,” Adams said. “We’re going to create a safe environment with testing. We’re going to identify the children that are exposed. We’re going to remove them from that. The numbers show the mere fact that a child is exposed in a classroom does not mean that entire classroom is exposed.”
In response to Howrilka’s lawsuit, the Department of Education said, “New York has gone above and beyond to make our schools safe with our multi-layered approach – including testing, vaccines and masks – and we look forward to welcoming back every student and staff member in person on Monday. This case is meritless and we will never waver from putting the health and needs of our school communities first including the many students for whom in-person school is a daily lifeline.”
Over the weekend, the teachers’ advocacy organization National Educators United, which is allied with major teachers’ unions American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association, demanded a national halt to in-person learning due to the Omicron spike across school districts.