CUNY’s Prestigious K-12 Public Schools Plan to Open without COVID Testing and Inspections Required of Other NYC Public Schools
Teachers at the Hunter College Campus Schools, who are represented by the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY, protested outside their fortress-like Upper East Side school today to demand health and safety protections equivalent to those provided at other NYC public schools. Parents, alumni, union leaders and industrial safety experts joined them on the informational picket line and spoke to parents and press about the schools’ inadequate COVID plan.
Most of the school’s 1500 students are scheduled to begin hybrid instruction Monday, September 21, at the K-6 and 7-12 public schools administered by CUNY’s Hunter College. More than one hundred teachers and staff are supposed to return, many to windowless classrooms, in a building modeled after an armory, nicknamed “The Brick Prison.”
“Hunter teachers love our students and want to return to in-person teaching in buildings that have been proven safe with adequate health and safety protocols. But the Hunter College Campus Schools are not ready. Their plan fails to meet the standards set for the vast majority of NYC public school students. Hunter’s plan puts students, faculty, staff, families, and our community at risk of contracting and spreading a lethal virus. The administration must come to the table and listen to the concerns of its teachers,” said Tina Moore, a teacher at the Hunter College Campus High School and chair of the HCCS union chapter.
Students and teachers in schools administered by the City’s Department of Education have random COVID-19 testing, room-by-room ventilation inspections, contact tracing and other health and safety protocols in place to reduce their potential exposure to the coronavirus. HCCS students and teachers will not have such protections.
“Why are Hunter Campus Schools students, teachers and staff not entitled to the same safety standards as all other New York City public school students? Are Hunter College and CUNY suggesting that their lives are not as valuable? It is outrageous that a school that rightly prides itself on being one of the best public schools in the country is refusing to allow a safety inspection. The whole force of the PSC’s 30,000 members is behind these teachers,” said Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC/CUNY), the union representing the Hunter teachers and 30,000 other academic staff at CUNY.
School administrators, led by Hunter College President Jennifer Raab and HCCS Director Lisa Siegmann, have refused to allow independent safety inspectors access to the school, even when the union offered to select an inspector jointly. Instead, they have tried to pass off a memo from the contractor hired to repair the building’s inadequate ventilation system as an independent inspector’s report.
“Both my children will attend school remotely until I can have assurance of the schools’ safety. Our teachers are public servants and essential workers and they should not be forced to work in any building until they can be assured it meets Covid-19 protocols. Teachers want to go back teaching in person; an independent inspection to tell them it’s safe to do so it is a reasonable request,” said Juliana Sohn, a parent of a 9th grader and a 12th grader at HCHS.
More than a thousand students and alumni of the Hunter College Campus Schools signed a petition over the summer demanding that their teachers have a real voice in the creation of the reopening plan. Parents have collected signatures in support of the teachers’ call for independent inspections.
Ignoring all that, Raab and Siegmann have made inadequate reopening plans that do not reflect engagement with parents, teachers, the union, or union health and safety experts.
“Before the pandemic, we knew the HCCS building to be leaky, dirty, and lacking in ventilation. Hunter and CUNY have not convincingly demonstrated that those conditions have changed,” said Dr. Jean Grassman, a professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy specializing in workplace health and safety.
Donna Gitter, a parent of two HCCS students in the classes of 2021 and 2024 and a professor at Baruch College represented by PSC/CUNY shared a statement: “The school’s motto is ‘Mihi Cura Futuri,’ meaning the care of the future is mine. The best way to care for the future of the Hunter community is to recognize their right to the same health and safety protocols as the DOE community.”