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New York City Answers Call For More Teachers, Establishes COVID Situation Room To Monitor Cases In Schools

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- There are signs pointing to a potential showdown between the teachers union and New York City before in-person classes start next week.

On Monday, teachers at P.S. 139 in Flatbush, Brooklyn should have been in there classrooms preparing for the first day of school. Instead, they were working outside - boycotting the building because they say it's poorly ventilated and unsafe, CBS2's Hazel Sanchez reported.

"Where we are is not where we should be based on the promises that were given to us, based on what we were told about the safety guidelines that would be followed for us and, quite frankly, for our students," said music teacher Megan Jonynas.

Jonynas told Sanchez the school custodial staff is understaffed and can't keep up with cleaning protocols.

On Friday, a teacher at the school tested positive for COVID-19, but Jonynas claimed teachers and other faculty were not contacted until two days later.

"That system needs to be a lot faster for this to be safe for everyone," she said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio says steps are being taken to address teachers' concerns about reopening New York City public schools.

The city is establishing a COVID response situation room to monitor teachers and students who test positive, and to speed up the contact tracing timeline. Schools will now contact the situation room to report positive cases.

"It's a number of agencies working together to make sure that whenever there is a positive test, there's immediate answers," said de Blasio.

Watch Hazel Sanchez's Report:

The mayor said nearly 17,000 school-based staff have taken advantage of the city's priority testing. Of those, 55 -- or 0.32% -- came back positive.

"Some people will test positive, and those folks will immediately get support. They'll be helped to get home, to safely separate, the contact tracing will go into effect right away," he said. "After two weeks, those professionals will come back to work and they'll complete the entire school year."

He encouraged all teachers and students to get the free testing and get their results within 48 hours.

The mayor also announced the deployment of 2,000 teachers to help with the shortage exacerbated by the new blended learning plan, which requires teams of in-person and remote teachers.

WATCH: Mayor, Schools Chancellor Share Latest On Reopening 

Marilyn Ramiez is a bilingual special education teacher at a high school in Washington Heights that may not have enough teachers for blended learning.

"It's creating a lot of anxiety for the teachers because it's a lot of unknown, a lot of uncertainty," Ramirez told CBS2's Jessica Layton. "I don't think anyone has the amount of teachers that they said we should have."

"So, we're looking at about 100 to 120 students who will not have a teacher in front of them at this moment," said UFT President Michael Mulgrew.

"We'll keep working with each school to make sure what they need is what they get and that we're ready for opening day," the mayor said Monday.

Some of the 2,000 are certified teachers who work within the Department of Education, while others will be substitutes.

"Folks who are ready and willing and able to serve in classrooms and bring a lot to the table," said de Blasio. "To begin, it's really important to make sure that we support every school. So these 2,000 additional teachers will be crucial to getting every school up and running in the right way."

Schools: The New Normal

"We need them in our schools, because we are cut back in very challenging circumstances, and they are teachers at the end of the day," added Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza. "In a pandemic, it's all hands on deck."

The mayor said priority will be given to schools that have the greatest staffing concerns.

"Hundreds of schools have said they just need one or two more, for example. So we're going to be able with this 2,000 additional educators to fill a lot of those gaps," he said. "A school that already is settled and has what they need, of course that's great. A school that has a greater level of need -- a school that needs three teachers versus a school that needs two teachers -- we're obviously going to lean in to the one that needs more."

Mark Cannizzaro, president of the principals union said his membership estimates they need 10,000 more teachers, and they don't have the funding to hire them.

"So, it's an absolutely impossible position to put folks in, and cooler heads are going to have to prevail before Monday," Cannizzaro said.

Mulgrew said the city is failing to keep its end of the bargain, and the union is considering its options if schools aren't ready to open.

"If you asked me if we were ready to open today, I would say we are not," Mulgrew said Monday.

In a glaring example of how far apart the union and city are, the mayor was asked the same question Monday, and said schools are ready to go.

As of Monday, 55 DOE staff members have tested positive for COVID-19.

Click here to find a COVID-19 test site near you.

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