September/October 2020 Issue
August 22, 2020

NYSUT: Responsible reopening plans must put health and safety first

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT United
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NYSUT continues to be proactive in getting members up-to-date, specific information about ways to alleviate the many health and safety concerns of returning to school for work while the pandemic continues.

“It’s these issues of health and safety that started the labor movement. This is about people’s well-being,” said Veronica Foley, NYSUT health and safety specialist.

NYSUT has conducted in-depth research on behalf of teachers, transportation workers, custodians, clerical staff, school nurses and aides in order to ensure their safety. Focus groups have been held with different constituency groups to glean their specific concerns, followed up with resource guides. Foley and the NYSUT officers provided information for union leaders around the state to host their own regional health and safety meetings.

“All of what we’re learning now really is best practice, and will help in the future,” said Foley, including dealing with influenza.

Job number one for members is to connect with local union leaders, review the information and materials available from the union, and plan for a discussion with administration. “Work with your colleagues, your union leaders and the NYSUT labor relations specialists,” Foley said.

NYSUT continues to stress that members work with the school district’s health and safety committee, which every district is required by law to have in place. That committee is mandated to have a union member.

Foley said another important tool to assess building health and safety comes from the building condition survey mandated by the State Education Department to be conducted for each building every five years. This comprehensive report looks at engineering, plumbing, ventilation, heating and cooling.

Examining the most recent report can provide a wealth of knowledge as to the condition of the school, what has been addressed and what improvements remain to be done.

“It’s important that we utilize what we already have a right to,” said Foley.

Since proper ventilation plays a major role in keeping a classroom safe for students and educators, NYSUT, in partnership with CSEA, provided vital building assessment tools on two webinars in August.

Participants were outfitted with questions to ask school administrators; HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) tools for schools from the Environmental Protection Agency; and school building planning checklists provided by NYSUT and CSEA.

“This is going to be an ongoing narrative,” said Foley.

NYSUT’s online Coronavirus Toolkit features a host of resources from the statewide union, the State Department of Health and the State Education Department. Topics include school reopening, cleaning guidance, frequently asked questions and much more. Visit nysut.org/coronavirus.

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