USA

New deal with DOE lets UFT teachers work from home if not needed on-site

The Department of Education will now allow many more teachers to work from home this upcoming school year as part of a new deal with their union, officials said late Friday.

Previously, any teacher who was not a given a specific coronavirus exemption was required to be present in school each day — even when teaching remote classes without kids present.

But the United Federation of Teachers pushed back on that in recent weeks and ultimately won the major concession.

“The DOE will be instructing principals that all UFT-represented employees in all job titles who have no on-site duties or responsibilities have the option to work remotely,” the union said in a letter to members Friday.

The DOE had already given roughly 16,000 teachers – or 21 percent of the citywide total – coronavirus medical exemptions that will allow them to work from home this year.

“Supervisors may require UFT employees to remain on-site on an as-needed basis only,” read the UFT missive.

The union said the allowances will “keep us safer and reduce the traffic on overextended Wi-Fi networks” within schools, according to the letter.

Teachers who are primary caregivers and have medically vulnerable family members at home will be given priority for the expanded pool of remote-only slots.

In addition, all parent teacher conferences — normally held face-to-face on school grounds — will be conducted remotely this year, the union said.

The deal will also bar principals from compelling teachers to live stream their on-site classes to kids learning remotely.

Facing heavy union opposition, Mayor de Blasio has been pushing for a partial reopening of city schools, arguing that kids needed to resume that aspect of their former lives — even if in a limited fashion.

DeBlasio has also asserted that remote learning is inherently inferior to classroom instruction and that prolonged absence from school will deepen learning deficits.

But teacher groups vigorously resisted a return to classrooms, arguing that conditions are still too risky and that DOE preparations have been inadequate.

Some UFT factions have charged the DOE with failing to provide proper protective gear or offering reliable COVID-19 testing procedures.

About 100 DOE employees died from COVID-19 last year, the agency reported.

In parrying union objections, De Blasio has recently highlighted that only 0.3 percent of roughly 17,000 city teachers who have taken coronavirus tests have come up positive.

Roughly 540,000 city kids are expected to begin a hybrid learning model this next week that will have them alternate between home and building instruction.

About 460,000 have opted for a remote-only format.

Parents who chose the blended model expressed surprise and dismay last week when the DOE revealed that there was no guarantee that their remote classes would even be led, in real time, by a teacher guiding them online.

With school populations split up to enable social distancing, the number of classes in most schools has multiplied.

That in turn has created staffing shortages across the city that the DOE has been scrambling to fill in recent weeks.

“These common sense policies will help keep our school communities safe while enabling you to do your work,” UFT chief Michael Mulgrew told members Friday of the new concession.

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