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Petition asks for no in-school instruction; union leader suggests delaying return to RCSD buildings


Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that next week, he’ll respond to each district’s plan on how to return to school buildings, but a growing number of Rochester City School District stakeholders are expressing concerns about the prospect of reopening.

Hundreds of teachers, staff and parents have signed a petition asking district leadership and union leaders to keep school buildings closed. Instruction moved online in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Claire Labrosa, who teaches English as a new language in the district, co-wrote the letter. Labrosa said most district buildings are old and they were hard to keep clean prior to the pandemic.

“Any idea that we can keep our kids safe in school buildings right now is utterly absurd,” said Labrosa. “Keeping the students safe and keeping the staff safe will cost more money, and we have less money than (we) ever had before to fund our schools.”

“I think that any return to school buildings without additional funding for space, for outside classrooms, for personal protective equipment for students and staff, without regular testing for all 26,000 students and over 4,000 staff is just not going to be safe,” continued Labrosa.

A district survey released earlier this month showed that staff, families and students have mixed feelings on returning to school this year.

Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski said he agrees with many of the concerns expressed and has shared them with the district. He also suggests that buildings stay closed for the first quarter of the school year.

“And nobody can assure parents that their kids will be safe in school in September for in-school instruction. Nobody,” Urbanski said.

Urbanski said the district should pivot to project-based learning with online office hours for teachers to prevent the spread of COVID-19. He said he’s concerned that in-class instruction could lead to infection hot spots.

“They will probably have to shut down anyway as soon as there are a series of outbreaks in individual classrooms and individual schools,” said Urbanski.

Urbanski said he expects that the governor and state education department will provide guidelines for returning to schools in September but thinks many of the details on how they do it will be left to each district to decide. 

District spokesperson Carlos Garcia said they expect to send those details to Albany by week’s end. 

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.