No more snow days? Not so fast, says NYC teachers union.

Nancy King’s son Drew walking in the snow.
Instead of snow days, students will learn remotely during inclement weather. But remote teaching requirements still need to be negotiated, union says. (David Handschuh for Chalkbeat)

New York City students weren’t the only ones upset about losing snow days next school year. The city’s teachers union also cast a flurry of doubt on the move to remote instruction during inclement weather.

The education department, for the second year in a row, said that canceling snow days would help the city reach its state-mandated 180 days of instruction and avoid cutting into spring break or religious observances. 

Schools could make a “seamless” transition to a day of remote learning, officials said, as the nation’s largest school system has already distributed hundreds of thousands of devices, and most students have become adept at remote learning during the pandemic. 

The United Federation of Teachers, however, said that it’s not such a simple transition.

Remote learning means teachers need to set up remote classrooms, which can present logistical challenges. Such a move requires negotiations with the union. 

“Have we agreed that every teacher in NYC will have a remote classroom set up? We have not,” teachers union President Michael Mulgrew said at a member meeting this week, according to the NYC Educator Blog. “This is a collective bargaining issue.”

The teachers union saw and approved the school calendar, education department officials said, noting that additional conversations will take place about the logistics.

“We worked with our partners in labor to come to this resolution,” wrote education department spokesperson Danielle Filson, “and look forward to future collaboration with them so that our students get the instructional days required by the state.”

Formal negotiations about remote teaching have not yet started, a union spokesperson confirmed. 

Recent state education department guidance allows schools to pivot to remote instruction due to weather or non-weather emergencies, including snowstorms.

But Mulgrew’s words hinted at larger issues for the coming school year when it comes to in-person and remote instruction. Several staffing questions remain unanswered for next year, including whether teachers will be responsible for teaching live and remote instruction. 

Without knowing other key components of next year, though, including what the social distancing will look like or whether schools will be on the hook to offer a fully remote option, it’s hard to know what the remote instructional needs will be.

School leaders worry about a repeat of last fall, when teachers union negotiations with the city led to last-minute changes in live instruction requirements. 

In terms of the academic calendar, in recent years, the city’s school system added Lunar New Year, celebrated in many Asian American communities, and Eid, a Muslim religious holiday, to the calendar. Next school year, Juneteenth, commemorating the emancipation of the nation’s remaining enslaved people after the Civil War, will be added. Election Day will continue to be used for professional development for school staff, but students will be expected to do pre-taped or other lessons from home without live instruction.

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