July/August 2020 Issue
June 15, 2020

NYSUT members join SED’s task force on reopening schools

Author: Sylvia Saunders
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NYSUT members will give the front-line point of view on the State Education Department’s Task Force on Reopening Schools, serving on four regional panels around the state through June.

“We’re pleased that Chancellor Betty Rosa and SED recognize that this is a collective effort and that stakeholders must have a voice in any decisions about reopening schools,” said NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango. “Our members will share their expertise, answer questions and give valuable feedback on what’s needed this fall.”

The four regional panels will each have a variety of NYSUT-recommended members from the union’s subject area committees and board of directors. In addition, each panel will have one NYSUT School-Related Professional, DiBrango said.

Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa said the task force will focus on “recovering, rebuilding and renewing,” with educational equity at the forefront of any decision-making. The state’s sudden shift to remote learning due to the pandemic highlighted the state’s unacceptable inequities in educational opportunities and resources, including a great digital divide.

SED’s invite-only virtual task force meetings begin June 15 and 17. Additional meetings will be held from 8:30-11:30 a.m. June 22 and 24.

Sessions included breakouts in the following areas: health and safety; teaching and learning; transportation, facilities and nutrition; digital equity and access; budget and fiscal matters; social-emotional needs; special education; bilingual education/multilingual learners; and staffing/human resources.

Among many issues, DiBrango said NYSUT is emphasizing: Technology can supplement instruction but remote learning can never replace in-person teaching and support services.

Computer instruction may not be developmentally appropriate for all, especially primary grade children and some students with disabilities. If plans include remote learning, the state must tackle the problems of unfair and unequal access to the internet.

We must preserve the education of the whole child, including arts, music, physical education, world languages, Career and Technical Education, libraries and other special areas.

Plans must address trauma-informed instruction, culturally responsive practices and social-emotional needs for both students and staff. Staff must receive professional learning opportunities and have time for curriculum mapping.

With input from the task force meetings and a private consultant, SED recommendations will be presented at the Board of Regents meeting July 13. It is unclear how SED’s work will mesh with the governor’s Reimagining Education Advisory Council, which is slated to release its own recommendations in June.

Educators reacted swiftly and negatively when the governor suggested that remote learning could be the wave of the future and announced a partnership with the Gates Foundation.

NYSUT President Andy Pallotta urged the task force to “reimagine” how the state invests in public schools.

“When this is said and done, we will have many students who have been impacted directly by COVID-19. They may have lost a loved one to the virus. Others will feel isolated because they lost their daily contact with teachers, School-Related Professionals and their peers,” Pallotta testifed. “Our answer to those children cannot be ‘Log into your Chromebook’ or ‘Our district can’t afford a social worker.’ We must commit ourselves to giving those students the resources they need.”

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