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1 Week Before In-Person Classes Resume, New York City Teachers Still Concerned About Safety

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- They're not ready and it's not safe to go back into schools. That's the thought of many New York City public school teachers a week before in-person learning is set to begin.

As the concerns grow, so has the number of teachers who have tested positive for COVID-19.

With loud chants of "Safe education is a must!" and even bolder statements written on posters, several teachers met Tuesday for another day of protests outside Grace Dodge campus in the Belmont section of the Bronx, CBS2's John Dias reported.

"We do not trust the DOE to make it safe," one teacher said.


On the eve of the first day of virtual learning for public schools in the city, the teachers were calling for the whole year to remain online, until buildings are safer, or there's a coronavirus cure.

"We know how dangerous COVID could really be for our students and how much trauma they've endured in the past seven months, and we can't accept that to happen again," said social studies teacher Alexandra Haridopolos.

Sari Rosenberg was among a handful of teachers abruptly sent home from the High School for Environmental Studies in Hell's Kitchen this week, after a possible COVID-19 exposure from a colleague with symptoms.

"I want to think I don't have COVID, but I won't know until I get that test back," Rosenberg told CBS2's Jessica Layton. "The one sacrifice I don't think anyone should be making is their health."

Teachers from PS 63 on the Lower East Side marched in protest, chanting, "We won't die for the DOE!" CBS2's Hazel Sanchez reported.

Teachers from the Neighborhood School and S.T.A.R. Academy said the East Third Street building they share off Avenue B  isn't safe, despite getting a passing grade from the city's ventilation action team.

"So when we go in and our windows don't open and they're saying, well, you have windows. That's not enough," Amy Parker said.

CORONAVIRUS: NY Health Dept. | NY Call 1-(888)-364-3065 | NYC Health Dept. | NYC Call 311, Text COVID to 692692 | NJ COVID-19 Info Hub | NJ Call 1-(800)-222-1222 or 211, Text NJCOVID to 898211 | CT Health Dept. | CT Call 211 | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

CBS2 was given an exclusive look inside PS 63's classrooms. Some had broken windows and windows screwed shut. Others barely opened.

The teachers said cracking a window four inches isn't going to help, despite what their union says, and cited deplorable conditions inside some of the buildings.

"I have had asbestos in my classroom. We had rats in our classroom. We had cockroaches in our classroom. The sinks and the toilets broken for decades. So, no, we don't have ventilation, but we also don't have basic sanitation," Haridopolos said.

The mayor also said Martin Luther King Education Complex, home to six high schools on the Upper West Side, is the only public school building in need of alternate learning sites because of poor ventilation.

Otherwise, he's confident schools will be ready for the beginning of in-person learning, which starts Monday.

"The problems that have been raised about individual classrooms, for example, those are being resolved. But if there's some classrooms and building, they simply will be held off-line if needed," Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

MORE: Demonstrators Gather Outside NYC Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza's Home To Protest In-Person Classes

After one teacher said he contracted COVID-19 back in March and infected at least 11 other people, he believes the whole school experienced first-hand neglect and mistrust of the Department of Education when it kept schools open.

"[They said it was] self-reported, even though they had confirmation in hand that I sent from Montefiore Hospital," said social sciences teacher Israel Soto. "Our building became a cluster of COVID and nobody knew this."

As Layton reported this week, the DOE is shutting down PS 139 in Brooklyn for 24 hours after a second positive case in seven days. One of union's biggest gripes has been the city's failure to deliver test results within the promised one to two days. The city addressed that Tuesday.

"Ninety-eight percent of all the teachers that have gotten tested at our prioritized sites have had a test result back within 48 hours," said Dr. Ted Long of the city's Test & Trace Corps.

Until Rosenberg gets her results, she's forging ahead with lessons plans from home. The U.S. history teacher said she is anxious for the virus to be a thing of the past.

"It's terrifying. I'm concerned about when more kids come into the building what might happen," Rosenberg said.

Recently, at least 55 other DOE staff members tested positive for COVID-19, and now, across the city, many teachers are preparing lesson plans outside, afraid to go in. This as many schools have not yet announced the number of teachers needed for blended learning.

The union asked for 10,000, but Monday the city announced just 2,000 more educators will be brought in. The mayor defended that Tuesday.

"We've got to make sure we balance," de Blasio said. "I think this 2,000 will solve the problem."

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