SQWM calls for protection of teachers, staff and students amid COVID surge

FILE PHOTO: Meisha Porter, Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, greets students as they return to school in Manhattan, New York
Meisha Porter, chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, greets a P.S. 064 Robert Simon student as children return to school during the outbreak of COVID-19 in Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S., April 26, 2021.
REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File

The South Queens Women’s March (SQWM), in a statement to Caribbean Life, called on the NYC Department of Education (DOE) to act swiftly to protect the lives of its teachers, staff and students.

“Countless community members we know are teachers at NYC DOE schools including many of our own SQWM members,” said the group, inspired by global and national women’s rights movements, that amplifies the voices of South Queens’ diverse women.

“New York State saw a record high number of new COVID-cases last week and yet, DOE schools remain open with no new actions in place to protect the lives of those working and learning in schools.”

They said classroom spaces have not gotten larger.

“Class sizes have not gotten smaller. Vaccination rates among younger children are still lagging. Yet, DOE schools remain open.”

“DOE teachers are requested, but NOT required, to get tested on a weekly basis. For those who choose to get tested, COVID-19 testing remains inaccessible, with teachers having to travel distances, having to wait in long lines and having to find time to get tested outside of working hours.” 

“We have heard that testing kits on-site at schools run out each day, forcing staff who want to get tested to find alternative means of doing so,” said the statement.

“The DOE continues to exploit the unpaid labor of teachers,” added a DOE public school teacher & SQWM member. “Folks are spending HOURS in lines to avoid exposing our students and coworkers to COVID when the responsibility should be on the DOE to provide regular testing!”

“As a teacher, I am terrified of going to work every day. At least 2-3 more staff members and many students are testing positive or not coming to school each day because they don’t feel safe. I’m having flashbacks of March 2020, It breaks my heart that we have to go to the building every day when we have a mechanism in place for remote learning.”

They call on the DOE to take immediate actions, including but not limited to:

  • Ensuring that all on-site testing sites at DOE schools have an ample supply of tests each day
  • Providing remote options for learning to reduce COVID-risk among staff and students
  • Requiring testing and social distancing of 6 feet between all students and staff

The organization has taken to the streets to unify women and gender non-conforming individuals in the South Queens community and provide them with the tools and resources necessary to empower their own lives and thrive. 

Since its inception, SQWM has been curbing food insecurity, period poverty, building healthy relationships, and promoting wellness within South Queens. SQWM’s vision is to create a world free of violence, injustice, and oppression; a world where all people are on equitable footing, in the home, the workplace, in houses of worship, and in larger community spaces.

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