CUNY Staff and Students Condemn CUNY Reopening Plans, Deemed Unsafe


The Professional Staff Congress (PSC), staff and students of the City University of New York (CUNY), and legislative representatives last week called on CUNY to revise its reopening plans to ensure the safety of students and staff before reopening school buildings.

The call came as classes are scheduled to start tomorrow, August 26. As of the current plan, students and teachers are to follow a blended model of in-person and online learning, with physical classroom capacities set in accordance with 6-foot social distancing guidelines. PPE will be provided and proper sanitation measures are to be in place. 

However, scientific research increasingly shows that the main mode of COVID transmission is through small aerosol particulates, which are best limited through thorough ventilation. But many CUNY school buildings have poor ventilation and inadequate filtration systems. Hunter College Campus Schools, in particular, contain few open windows and poor air circulation, as they are housed at the site of a former armory. 

Yet despite having failed to provide any evidence that its school buildings are safe for in-person instruction, CUNY expects students and staff to physically return to school this week. Although NYS guidelines require schools to draft their reopening policies with engagement from communities and students, CUNY fails to include community input in its plans.

PSC calls for CUNY to delay the physical reopening of its schools until at least Thanksgiving, and to conduct health and safety assessments by independent experts to confirm that the buildings are safe for in-person instruction before students and staff are allowed to return. 

“CUNY has an obligation under the law to provide a workplace that is free from recognized hazards, and COVID19 is clearly a recognized hazard,” says PSC President Barbara Bowen. According to Bowen, CUNY has already lost more faculty and staff to COVID than any other university in the country. In addition, the situation poses a racial injustice issue, as 80% of CUNY students are people of color.

“The last thing any of us want in New York is to have a resurgence of the horrible epicenter of the horrible pandemic that we’ve lived through and are continuing to live through, and a pandemic that disproportionately ravaged the lives of the CUNY student communities,” says Bowen.

In addition to supporting PSC and CUNY staff and students with their requests, Assemblymember Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan) calls on the city and state to allocate more funding to its schools in order to provide better infrastructure maintenance. 

“By and large, we are dealing with older facilities that have not been maintained. Not because CUNY didn’t want to, but because neither the city nor the state have provided the necessary resources to do that,” she says. “Even in good times, we did not get the kind of support for capital improvements and normal maintenance. So I would hope that today is a clarying call to both CUNY, the mayor, and the governor to ensure our safety.”

In the meantime, to offset its small budget, CUNY is planning on raising tuition costs, posing problems for many students who have faced financial insecurity due to the pandemic. In addition, 300 CUNY faculty members have been laid off, resulting in poorer quality online education.

If CUNY does not revise its reopening plans in accordance with community input and hold off on tuition hikes, Bowen says that the union could take legal action. It has already filed for temporary restraining orders for unsafe campuses. In addition, preparations for a strike are also possible.

“Coronavirus is real. And it is a formidable opponent,” says Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams (D). “We have to make the right decision for the entire CUNY team. These are not just college students. They are family members. And I’m really concerned if we move in a rapid fashion and not make the right move.”

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