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Judge Bars Hunter Schools from Starting In-Person Classes in Rooms without Real HEPA Filters

Sep 25, 2020

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Hunter College Campus Schools Safe Return Campaign Page

As CUNY Teachers Campaign for Safe Reopening, Judge Bars Hunter College Campus Schools from Starting In-Person Classes in Rooms without Real HEPA Filters

NYS Supreme Court Judge Eileen Rakower, NY County, has granted a temporary restraining order barring administrators at the Hunter College Campus Schools from compelling teachers and College Laboratory Technicians to return in-person instruction in rooms without HEPA filters. Read the Temporary Restraining Order.

The Professional Staff Congress, the union representing 150 teachers and staff at the Upper East Side K-12 school, petitioned the Court for the restraining order Tuesday, after learning the Hunter Schools had installed “air purifiers” whose efficacy against COVID-19 is unknown, instead of HEPA filters as required by the School’s COVID-19 Reopening Plan.

“The union is ready to do whatever it takes to keep the teachers, staff and students at the Hunter Schools safe. Having real HEPA filters in the classrooms is a victory, but the fact that we had to go before a judge to force the Hunter Schools to follow their own COVID plan after they misrepresented the devices they were using demonstrates why we need an independent inspection of the ventilation in every classroom,” said Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, which represents 30,000 academic staff throughout CUNY.

Hunter Schools administrators finally ordered a first batch of real HEPA filters on the day the union filed its petition. The judge granted the temporary restraining order nonetheless, holding the School accountable to its own COVID-19 plan.

The order covers the armory-inspired building at 94th Street and Park Avenue, where most in-person classes are scheduled to meet, and the Silberman School of Social Work at 119th Street and 3rd Ave, where classes for grades 9-10 are scheduled to be conducted. Classrooms in the 94th Street building have no windows; the building has a history of inadequate ventilation.

Remote instruction at the Hunter Schools began Monday, September 21. In-person and hybrid instruction is scheduled to start September 29 for grades K-6 and October 1 for grades 7-10 (grades 11-12 will start the year all-remote). The School announced a delay in its planned in-person start date just hours after being informed of the union’s intent to file for the Temporary Restraining Order.

The union has successfully pressured the Hunter Schools to agree to random COVID-19 testing in line with DOE procedures, and now the judge has essentially ordered Hunter to install real HEPA filters. But the teachers are not ready to return to in-person instruction until their demand for independent inspections of the ventilation in every classroom are met.

“The Hunter administration’s lack of communication about safety protocols, their disregard for our health and safety, their purchase of improper air purifiers, and their attempt to pass off a memo from the HVAC contractor as a report from an independent authority has eliminated the trust we have in our administration. In a time when health and safety must be our top priority, they are choosing to risk all our lives unnecessarily. We demand that they let an independent expert inspect the building and answer the question ‘What are the Hunter Schools hiding?” said Tina Moore, chair of the PSC chapter at the Hunter College Campus Schools.

The Hunter Schools are public k-6 and 7-12 schools run by Hunter College, not the Department of Education (DOE). About 1500 students attend the schools, which are not automatically governed by the COVID-19 safety protocols that protect students and staff at all other NYC public schools.

The Hunter Schools teachers want to return to in-person teaching in buildings that have been proven safe with adequate health and safety protocols and an independent inspection. They have demanded health and safety protections equivalent to those provided at other NYC public schools.
Earlier this week, the teachers voted overwhelmingly that they have “No Confidence” in their school’s top administrators, Hunter College President Jennifer Raab and Schools Director Lisa Siegmann.

More background here.

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