“I’m Just Not Used To It”: Dept. Of Educational Office Workers Sent To Understaffed NYC Schools

When Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a vaccine order in COVID-19 for all Department of Education employees, he repeatedly assured families that the city has plenty of resources to fill any sudden vacancies left by undeveloped employees in 1,800 public schools.

Part of that plan is to deploy Central staff-DOE employees working in administrative offices-in schools along with thousands of substitute teachers.

De Blasio said these designated Central staff have experience and pedagogical licenses to work in classrooms with students.

“We have thousands and thousands of vaccinated, experienced substitute teachers ready to go. That’s the obvious first stop, but it’s also true that Central’s staff has thousands of educators, certified educators, who can step into different roles as needed, ”de Blasio said in a Sept. 23 briefing. .

However, some Central staff with no educational experience found themselves in classrooms. Erin Couture, a Central administrative employee, was assigned to an early education center Monday in Brooklyn instead of her usual office near Tweed Courthouse, the Department of Education’s headquarters, in Manhattan.

“I’m not certified to work with children, I literally have no experience working with children,” said Couture, who has an administrative role as Director of Special Education at Charter Schools and has never worked in a classroom.

“So when I showed up at the Pre-K center on Monday, I definitely thought I’d probably do the duty at the door desk for the security staff, or maybe help in the kitchen or what,” Couture said. . “And basically, I’m a floating (professional) who moves in a lot of classrooms, mostly working with about three years old,” calling it “pretty busy and messy.”

With three people on her small team deployed to schools until Oct. 15, Couture said her two remaining colleagues are trying to do the entire team work.

A DOE spokesman said nearly 1,000 Central personnel were deployed to schools this week.

“Most of them have pedagogical licenses, titles, and experience,” DOE spokeswoman Katie O’Hanlon said in a statement Wednesday. “For those who don’t, they provide administrative support, supplementary supervision, and more.”

The DOE vaccination mandate requires employees to receive at least one dose of a vaccine before the school day begins on Oct. 4 or face unpaid health insurance vacation or resignation. Then many legal challenges at The unions forced the city to carve out medical and religious exceptions, the mandate took effect this week.

O’Hanlon of the DOE said as of Wednesday, 95% of the approximately 148,000 employees had chosen to be vaccinated. Of the 78,600 DOE teachers, 96% or 75,500 were vaccinated. Of the 23,400 paraprofessionals working with students with special needs, 93% or 21,600 were vaccinated.

However, the mandate meant that thousands of undeveloped teachers and paraprofessionals did not report to work this week, absences that could particularly affect students with special needs.

Paullette Healy, a member of the Citywide Council for Special Education whose son Lucas is supposed to receive occupational and speech therapy through the DOE, said those services were abruptly canceled this week.

“They sent an email through Google Classroom saying they were being pulled to cover other classes on other sites and that they couldn’t provide therapy this week,” Healy said.

The paraprofessional who works with Jessica Waverka’s seven -year -old son Theo at a school in Brooklyn told her she won’t be returning to work this week, Waverka said.

His son was eventually assigned a new paraprofessional Thursday, but the revolt meant Theo, who has many special needs, was not receiving proper support for the day- including regular care. access to food because he has an eating disorder. Waverka kept him at home instead.

“The little things that (paraprofessional) do to make a child’s life function properly and clearly have access to education have not been communicated to anyone,” Waverka said. “And how will it be? Especially when there are staff at Central coming down? How did they meet the kids?”

The school staff shortage means last minute changes for DOE teachers who are found again or cover up for missing colleagues.

“We had a lot of people every day, and people were drawn to cover,” said Carrie McCormack, who teaches 11th and 12th grade college and career seminars at East Bronx Academy for Future. “We have one teacher who was only placed in one of the medical shelters – the very few and far between the one – and so far we have two teachers covering his classes. He is a math teacher and they took some in his extreme classes. ”

“Everything was just drained,” McCormack added.

Couture said the early education center where he was assigned lost four staff because of the vaccination order.

“Teachers definitely need help, too many hands on classrooms,” he said. “But it’s a lot because … I want to make sure none of the kids get hurt. There are some kids who need more special attention and I’m not used to it.”

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