New York teachers threaten strike if schools reopen without more COVID-19 testing

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City teachers on Wednesday threatened to strike or bring legal action unless the largest U.S. school district implements a more rigorous COVID-19 testing plan and other safety measures before reopening schools next month.

The warning by the United Federation of Teachers, which represents the city’s 133,000 public school teachers, could delay Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to provide a mix of in-classroom and online learning from Sept. 10.

“The minute we feel that the mayor is trying to force people in to a situation that is unsafe... we go to court, we take a job action,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said during a briefing, adding that a “job action” could include a strike.

Asked about Mulgrew’s comments while touring a school in Brooklyn, de Blasio responded: “Look, any union leader who talks about doing something illegal should really think twice about what he’s saying.”

He was referring to a New York state law that bars public employees from striking or engaging in sickouts.

The mayor said city officials would continue working with the union on the reopening and insisted that all facilities would be safe, adding: “We’re going to keep moving forward to get schools ready for our kids.”

De Blasio has said the district will use a blended learning plan of part remote, part in-person, with a recommendation that students and staff get tested at least once a month, sit six feet apart and wear masks on school buses.

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Some U.S. schools and universities got off to a faltering start in reopening campuses this week. In several cases, spikes of positive COVID-19 tests administered to returning students and staff forced schools to delay or scupper plans for classroom instruction and limit students to online learning.

The University of Notre Dame in Indiana and Michigan State University rolled back their plans for in-person classes on Tuesday following a surge of positive test results. Notre Dame pushed back classes by two weeks and Michigan switched to remote learning for the term.


Residents of college towns have voiced concerns about flare-ups in cases once students return.

Three towns in Connecticut, where the infection rate has recently hovered below 1%, urged state health officials to enforce strict social distancing measures for college students arriving from areas with higher infection rates.

Middlebury College in Vermont has told students to “pack light” when returning to campus and have an evacuation plan in the event of an outbreak.

“The town of Middlebury does not have the infrastructure to cope with a massive outbreak that starts on campus,” wrote student and local resident Henry Ganey in a letter published in The Middlebury Campus newspaper this week.

At Tulane University in New Orleans, students were invited back to campus this week but were told they could be expelled or suspended for hosting large gatherings.

“All parents have worries both about the pandemic and whether all of these precautions will ultimately be successful. But it seems that the Tulane community is bringing the right amount of intentionality and preparation to this,” said Elizabeth Baker, a lawyer from Maplewood, New Jersey, who dropped off her daughter last week.

Reporting by Gabriella Borter, Peter Szekely, Jonathan Allen and Barbara Goldberg; Writing by Gabriella Borter and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien