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CUNY Must Delay In-Person Activities until Buildings are Proven Safe

Aug 21, 2020

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Union, Lawmakers, Experts Demand that CUNY Delay In-Person Activities until Buildings are Proven Safe, Including CUNY’s only K-12 School

Reopening Plans Must Guarantee Adequate Ventilation

New York– Faculty, staff and students of CUNY and the Hunter College Campus Schools were joined today by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and the State Legislative Higher Education Chairs, Senator Toby Ann Stavisky and Assemmblymember Deborah Glick and City Council Health Chair Mark Levine, to call for a delay of all in-person activities at CUNY. The speakers called on CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez and Hunter College President Jennifer Raab to protect the lives and health of CUNY workers and students by ensuring safe buildings before sending anyone back to campus during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Click here for video of the press conference.

“Decades of underfunding and racialized austerity have resulted in University buildings characterized—even before the pandemic struck—by insufficient ventilation, poor water systems, inadequate hand-washing facilities, untreated mold and other hazardous conditions,” said Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), referencing a letter explaining the union’s demand to delay opening of worksites “There is mounting scientific evidence that the dominant route of coronavirus transmission is through the air, by respiratory aerosols.  CUNY needs to provide evidence that all ventilation problems in any area it plans to reopen have been corrected,” Bowen said.

The Fall semester begins on most CUNY campuses next Wednesday, August 26. Classes at the Hunter College Campus Schools (HCCS) may begin on September 10. CUNY has announced that 6% of college classes will be conducted in person and that no more than 25 percent of employees will be on campus at any one time.  Twenty-five percent of the CUNY workforce is more than 11,000 people. The HCCS administration plans to open their publicly funded K-6th and 7th-12th grade schools to in-person and hybrid instruction.

Faculty at the Hunter College Campus Schools, who work in a building with few windows and problematic ventilation, are calling for a delay of in-person instruction until at least Thanksgiving. They want independent experts to confirm that their building is safe and that plans for protection of students and faculty are sufficient.

“The proposed plan for HCCS was devised without any teacher input and does not fulfill the State requirement that reopening plans should reflect engagement with campus stakeholders, including unions.  It is dangerous and reckless and puts students, faculty, staff, families, and the community at risk of contracting and spreading a lethal disease. In the absence of real engagement and agreed upon independent verification that the ventilation system is adequate, we believe teaching remotely is currently the only safe and responsible option,” said Christina Moore a teacher at the Hunter College Campus High School and chair of the HCCS union chapter.

At least 47 CUNY faculty and staff have died because of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

Dr. Jean Grassman, a professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy specializing in workplace health and safety, explained why CUNY must do much more to improve ventilation in its 300 buildings, including HCCS.

“We now know that the dominant route of coronavirus transmission is through the air by respiratory aerosols, tiny particles that travel many meters when we speak, cough, exhale or sing.  These aerosols are capable of easily crossing a typical classroom and can actually be spread farther by a HVAC system with inadequate filtration,” said Grassman.

While some CUNY college administrations have engaged with local union leaders in the development of their reopening plans, many have not.  The CUNY central administration issued guidelines on reopening for colleges, but has taken no responsibility for uniform compliance with the NYS requirement to engage with the union in developing the plan, and as a result, the PSC has no CUNY-wide assurance that it is safe for our members to return to in-person work. City and State lawmakers joined the union in its demand that CUNY protect students and workers.

“CUNY faculty and students are asking for a plan of action from administrators to ensure the campuses they will be returning to this fall are safe, and clear protocols in place to mitigate the risk of infection for everyone. These aren’t unreasonable demands – they’re what we should expect, especially given the fact that over 40 CUNY workers have passed due to COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. I stand with these brave educators, students, elected officials, and experts, and urge CUNY to expeditiously develop a plan that takes their concerns into account and allows CUNY, the jewel of our public education system, to welcome people back to its campuses safely,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

“I stand with the PSC and their demands. The health and safety of students and faculty at our schools and universities is paramount. As we confront the impacts of COVID-19, leaders must work to ensure that safety protocols, adequate circulation and ventilation, sufficient PPE, and effective testing and tracing are in place before we reopen CUNY and Hunter College Campus Schools for in-person learning,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer in a written statement.

“We all want to see CUNY students and staff members back in the classroom. We all want that return to normalcy, and we want our students to benefit from a more personalized educational experience. However, CUNY has already lost approximately 50 lives to this virus and we cannot risk losing any more. Until we are sure that all buildings on all CUNY campuses are safe, we should not be returning to in-person activities. As eager as we all are to get back to the world and lives we knew just a few months ago, we need to continue to be vigilant and responsible. When our CUNY students and staff members return to campuses and classrooms across New York City, we want to be confident that we won’t have to send them home again,” said Senator Toby Ann Stavisky.

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