NYC teachers rally for increased COVID-19 safety measures

Dozens of New York City teachers rallied Wednesday for increased safety measures in public schools as the surge in cases driven by the highly contagious omicron variant continued to batter the city school system.

The protest outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, led by the Movement of Rank and File Educators, a social justice caucus within the city teachers union, called for a one-week shift to remote learning, more testing for kids and teachers, and additional high-quality masks, among other measures.

“We are here to demand simple, basic safety measures for our schools,” said Sunset Park special education teacher Annie Tan, speaking through a voice amplifier she bought for her classroom when talking through a mask became too difficult.

City schools have reported more than 38,000 staff and student COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks.

City officials unveiled a plan over break to double the rate of weekly testing from 10% of unvaccinated students who consent to 20% of both vaccinated and unvaccinated students who consent, and to distribute rapid tests to kids exposed in class. The city Department of Education also distributed KN95 masks to school staff.

But teachers at the rally said that’s not enough, calling for weekly testing of all students and staff. The educators also pushed for a one-week shift to remote learning to reduce the risk to kids and staff.

“The mayor is lying when he says schools are the safest place for them to be,” said Rosy Clark, a Pre-K teacher at P.S. 58 in Brooklyn, which temporarily closed Monday due to staffing shortages.

Clark teaches entirely unvaccinated students and said, “I have a lot of kids who can be more drastically exposed, and that’s scary.”

DOE spokesman Nathaniel Styer said the city’s plan “ramped up testing sites, distributed 1.5 million rapid test kits to students and staff, provided all staff members with KN95 masks, and encouraged all our community members to get tested over break to identify cases. It’s the most ambitious school opening plan in the country, and it keeps our schools the safest place for New York City kids.”