NYC Principals Call on State to Take Over City Schools

The union representing New York City’s school administrators called upon the state to take over the largest U.S. city education system days before it is scheduled to reopen with part-time in-school instruction, saying that Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza have failed to ensure appropriate staffing and safe buildings during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Council of School Supervisors & Administrations, representing more than 6,400 school managers, declared a unanimous vote of “no confidence” in the city’s education leadership Sunday, and said de Blasio and Carranza should cede authority to the state to run the system of 1.1 million students and 75,000 teachers.

A hybrid system of in-person and at-home Internet-based instruction is slated to begin for elementary school students Tuesday, with middle and high schools starting Thursday.

The principals will show up for work Tuesday and Thursday, said CSA President Mark Cannizzaro during a Sunday news conference. The call for state control, he said, is to press for “fresh eyes” from outside the city.

The city Department of Education responded with a statement from spokeswoman Miranda Barbot that touted its efforts so far to overcome challenges of guaranteeing public health safety, but didn’t address the principals’ warning of inadequate staffing and their call for a state takeover.

“We’ve worked with our labor partners to navigate completely uncharted waters and accomplish our shared goal of serving students this fall,” Barbot said in a statement. “This week, more kids will be safely sitting in New York City classrooms than in any other major American city — a testament to city leadership and our educators’ commitment to their students, and the importance of in-person education.”

The principals’ union call for the state to assume control over city schools stirs up a fraught political history for the mayor, who has had to press hard to win such authority from Governor Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers, after years in which his predecessor, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, achieved mayoral control and received renewal without controversy. Bloomberg is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News.

The principals are chafing under changing guidelines and mandates, including recommendations from city officials that administrators be prepared to teach, in addition to handling management and staff issues, to deal with a potential shortage of instructors, Cannizzaro said.

“School leaders want school buildings reopened and have been tirelessly planning to welcome back students since the end of last school year,” Cannizzaro said. “They must now look staff, parents, and children in the eye and say that they have done all they can to provide a safe and quality educational experience, but given the limited resources provided them, this is becoming increasingly difficult.”

The program got snagged in delay earlier this month when de Blasio and Carranza acceded to teacher-union demands to halt its scheduled Sept. 10 opening because of shortages of teachers needed to teach each segment of the program — in-school, part-time remote and full-time at-home learning. That began a speeded up effort, continuing through this weekend, to hire thousands of certified teachers from around the state to fill the positions.

The hybrid system got underway smoothly last week for special education and pre-school students, school officials and union leaders said.

But more difficult and complex staffing issues have vexed principals leading elementary, middle and high schools, representing several hundred thousand students. A principal of a Staten Island high school gave up trying last week, announcing that the school would go all-remote, inviting students to the school yet only to follow the remote curriculum, not receiving a separate in-class curriculum. Several other principals will follow this model, with students coming to school, only to open their remote devices and follow the same lesson plan in which students will be participating at home, Cannizzaro said.

The dispute with principals arose when the mayor and chancellor agreed to allow remote teachers to conduct instruction from their homes, making them unavailable to help out in schools in the event teachers assigned to classrooms were absent due to illness. About one in five have been approved to teach remotely, citing health issues.

“We had no knowledge that that memorandum of understanding was about to be released,” Cannizzaro said at a Sunday news briefing. “We were disappointed that the mayor and chancellor didn’t share this agreement with us before it was out there.”

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