Updated Policy Allows More Teachers to Work Remotely

The administration has expanded the school’s policy on which teachers can work from home, leading to more teachers working remotely.

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Just one month into the school year, the Stuyvesant administration has expanded the school’s policy on teachers working from home, allowing teachers with familial obligations and responsibilities that do not require them to stay within the building to work remotely. The Department of Education (DOE) previously outlined that only teachers over 65 or with medical accommodations could apply to work from home. Due to overwhelming concerns of teachers across the city, however, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) pushed the DOE to alter this policy with a new Memorandum of Agreement (MOA).

Administrators and teachers initially found the new remote qualifications vague. “The UFT negotiated [with the DOE] to make it so that teachers who did not have specific duties that required them in the school building did not have to be in the school building,” English teacher Mark Henderson said. “[They announced this] agreement between the UFT and the DOE, […] but the DOE didn’t make a system for deciding who needs to be here and who doesn’t […] some people need to be here since we have students in the building, [but there was no plan for] how to determine which teachers need to be here.”

The administration had to make accommodations under short notice. “Principal [Seung] Yu was under a lot of pressure to figure this out and received no real guidance from above. I’m glad he made the decision that makes sense for our school,” Henderson said.

With the introduction of this new update, many teachers have now opted to work remotely. “[The new policy] affected me a lot because I have children at home—they’re nine and 12—so they could be home unsupervised, but it’s better if somebody is home. When this new policy was announced, I was very happy because I could teach from home, and I could also keep an eye on my children,” Math teacher Gary Rubinstein said in an e-mail interview.

Henderson has also found the new change to be beneficial. “My sons are in middle school, but one is particularly in need of my help once or twice a week. I was hoping for more flexibility than the initial plan had, and the administration quickly amended the plan to allow teachers to choose [when they would like to] come into the building, so long as [they] notified [Assistant Principal of Organization] Dr. [Gary] Haber the Friday beforehand,” Henderson said in an e-mail interview.

Despite the increase in the number of teachers working remotely, the administration has ensured that there are enough staff members in the building to accommodate the students coming in for blended learning. “Supervising of the pods is being handled by the school aides as well as substitute per diem teachers. We have enough staff members in the building every day, and Dr. Haber’s office is on top of this daily,” Director of Family Engagement Dina Ingram said in an e-mail interview.

Working from home, teachers can avoid the risks of commuting to and spending time inside the building. “My experience of working at home is similar to the experience many students have. I like that I can sleep in a bit longer because I don’t have to commute, and I don’t have any fears that I’m exposing myself or my family to sickness,” Henderson said in an e-mail interview.

Rubinstein added, “It’s risky to come in, whether you're on the subway you’re taking risks, or if you’re on a bike, actually. And I didn’t really feel that safe in the building; I didn’t know if all of the safety protocols were followed as much as I’d want them to be.”

For the teachers who have chosen to continue working in the school building, however, the administration has made sure to take proper measures to ensure everyone’s safety. “We are complying with all health and safety protocols from the DOH [Department of Health] and DOE and have plenty of PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] provided by the DOE. Our custodial staff works nonstop and keeps our building immaculate in complying with health and safety regulations for cleaning and sanitizing,” Ingram said.

These protocols have alleviated concerns, with teachers reporting that they feel comfortable working within the building. “I feel pretty safe being in the school building. It's clean, not crowded; everyone is wearing a mask; temperature gets taken at the door; and there is plenty of hand sanitizer,” chorus teacher Liliya Shamazov said.

Along the same lines, Yu said, “Fortunately, we have a community that recognizes and prioritizes safety. Both the students and the adults have been diligent about wearing their masks and following physical distancing. [It is important, however,] to continue to remind one another of following protocols and to hold each other accountable for doing so if we want to ensure everyone’s safety.”

Some teachers who have chosen to work from school have expressed that they feel more productive in the building. “Teaching at home is more difficult because I don't have all the props and can’t bring too much home with me. The needs of my classes always change; our projects evolve, so it's hard to plan for what to bring home,” Shamazov said. “At school, I have a piano, a room where I can sing and play comfortably, a vast choral library, and necessary teaching materials I rely on daily. When I make recordings or demonstrate vocal technique, I can do so comfortably without disturbing family members or neighbors.”

Working at home, Henderson noted, has blurred the line between his personal and professional lives. “I find it much more difficult focusing on work when I’m at home. My wife and sons are at home, [and] we are constantly distracting each other just by being around,” he said in an e-mail interview. “[At school,] I’m much more in a work-only mindset […] I have a dedicated space for my work, [and there is] very little to distract me.”

The policy, however, does not give the administration the option to work at home. “The administrative APs are part of the CSA [Council of School Supervisors and Administrators] Union and do not have the agreement that the UFT have under the MOA. They may, however, apply for a medical accommodation to work remotely as can DC37 employees (school aides, lunch workers and other DC37 like me),” Ingram said. “The APs I’ve spoken to seem to be happy to be back in the building working together with our blended learners this fall, and I’m very happy to be working with them.”

Though not a major concern for Stuyvesant administrators, the distinction in policy between the CSA and UFT has been a point of contention. “While I have the circumstances that allow me to be here every day, it is causing hardship and disuniting conditions for many in schools throughout the city that may not and who cannot benefit from UFT agreements. Those inequities shouldn’t exist within an organization like the DOE,” Ingram said. “Whether or not the strength of the UFT or its numbers are greater or more influential should not impact an employer's responsibility to treat every one of their employees equitably.”

Nonetheless, the Stuyvesant administration is working toward improving their response to blended learning and the pandemic, using feedback from teachers to combat the lack of information given to them by the DOE. “I feel the school has been very successful so far. The DOE performed their first COVID testing at Stuyvesant, and there were zero positive cases at Stuyvesant of those tested,” Ingram said.