A lawsuit by teachers afraid to go back to school amid the COVID-19 pandemic could force the Department of Education to open the floodgates on teacher virus exemptions just days before the start of classroom learning next Monday.
A group of five city educators claim that they were wrongfully denied coronavirus exemptions and argue that the DOE should expand the pool of teachers eligible to work from home.
Judge Dakota Ramseur granted a temporary restraining order Monday that legally allowed them not to come to their buildings this week.
She will issue a final ruling on the case on Friday after hearing arguments from their attorney, Bryan Glass, and DOE lawyers.
“Absent the requested relief, Petitioners and those educators similarly situated will face the Hobson’s choice of choosing between their own and their families’ safety, health, and possibly their lives, versus their own livelihoods and economic survival,” the suit states.
If the teachers prevail, sources said, countless colleagues will join the class-action case to seek remote-only arrangements for the upcoming year.
“Throughout the entire pandemic we have prioritized health and safety for our students, teachers and staff, and the plan we developed together with the [United Federation of Teachers] and other labor partners does the same,” DOE spokeswoman Danielle Filson said when the case was filed last week. “We will oppose the lawsuit.”
The DOE previously said exemptions would be available to teachers over the age of 65 or those with serious underlying health conditions that would place them at heightened risk.
The agency has already granted roughly 16,000 teachers COVID-19 exemptions — about 21 percent of the overall educator workforce. The DOE was unable to immediately say how many applicants have been rejected for the accommodation.
School administrators are struggling to staff classes, which have multiplied with the splitting of students to enable social distancing.
The city principals union has argued that the system needs an influx of 10,000 teachers to satisfy need.
Meanwhile, teachers across the city continued to resist returning to school buildings, citing a lack of DOE preparation and health risks.
At the High School of Economics and Finance in Manhattan, staffers camped out in front of their building Tuesday to call attention to their concerns.
“We are not certain about the safety of this school for our staff and our students next week,” said one teacher. “We just want a full assurance that the building is safe, the ventilation system is safe and the risk is as low as possible both for the staff and the students that’s coming in next week.”
Kailyn Fox, 33, sat in a folding chair in front of the school and tapped away at her laptop.
“It’s not safe inside,” she said. “The testing at this point is suggested by the DOE, is not required. Safe enough is not safe. It should be safety first and then we go from there.”
Both the UFT and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators have stressed two primary concerns with building instruction now just days away — timely coronavirus testing and tracing along with adequate staffing.
But Mayor Bill de Blasio has pressed ahead with the partial reopening, arguing that kids will benefit from a return to classroom learning environments.
As of Monday, 58 percent of city kids are slated to being a hybrid learning format that will have them alternate between building and home instruction.
“A friendly reminder, everyone,” de Blasio said at his daily press briefing Tuesday. “The Department of Education, City Hall, we are the people who provide the services to our parents and our kids.”
Child found safe in NYC after Amber Alert sent over her abduction
A 7-year-old girl who was abducted in Pennsylvania — allegedly by her body-armor-clad estranged father — has been found safe in New York City, an NYPD spokesman said.
An Amber Alert had been issued Friday evening saying the girl, Giselle Torres, had been abducted at around 2:18 p.m. Friday in Elkins Park, and was believed to be heading to New York City with the dad.
Juan Pablo Torres, 41, Giselle’s biological father, who does not have custody of the child, wound up taking her to the 104th Precinct in Ridgewood, Queens, an NYPD spokesman said.
The Ambert Alert initially warned that Giselle was in imminent danger.
Woman arrested for injuring 2-year-old in road rage incident
Massachusetts police arrested a woman they said threw a cup of iced coffee at a sleeping 2-year-old boy in a road rage incident.
Emma Silva, 20, of Marstons Mill, Mass., was charged with assaulting a child with a dangerous weapon and negligent operation of a vehicle.
Barnstable police said the boy’s mother reported the road rage incident, which happened Wednesday afternoon on Cape Cod.
They said she told police “another woman operating a white Jeep Liberty was ‘riding her bumper’ and ‘laying on her horn’ while yelling at her.”
She said the suspect “threw a cup of iced coffee into her vehicle, striking her sleeping 2-year-old son in the face while he was seated in the rear of her car in his child safety seat,” police said.
The cup bloodied the boy’s face and nose, according to police.
Police said a short time later an officer made contact with Silva and she agreed to come to the police station. She was arrested after the boy’s mother identified her.
Silva was arraigned in Barnstable District Court Thursday morning, and released on $540 bail and is due back in court on Nov. 4.
AG Letitia James recommends NYPD no longer conduct traffic stops
The New York State Attorney General will not be filing charges against an NYPD sergeant for a 2019 police-involved shooting death but did recommend cops no longer arrest people during traffic stops if they have certain open warrants, an AG report released Friday states.
The report, completed by AG Letitia James’ Special Investigations and Prosecution Units, analyzed the death of Allan Feliz, 31, who was shot by Sgt. Jonathan Rivera during an October 2019 traffic stop in the Bronx.
Feliz had been pulled over for allegedly not wearing a seatbelt but instead of handing over his own ID when cops asked, he gave his brother’s license. The sibling had three open warrants for littering, spitting and disorderly conduct, which are all violations and not crimes.
Feliz was asked to step out of the car, but he soon got back into the vehicle and attempted to drive away, sending Rivera jumping into the vehicle from the passenger side.
Feliz refused to surrender to police and continued to try to drive the car away, eventually leading Rivera to discharge his weapon when he thought his partner had been run over, the report states.
The AG found no reason to charge Rivera but did say car stops such as the one with Feliz shouldn’t be performed by officers because “the vast majority of traffic stops — including this one — do not involve criminal conduct, yet the involvement of police in such situations can result in violent interactions.”
“The report also highlighted studies demonstrating disparities in the use of force during traffic stops against Black and Latino men. The untimely death of Mr. Feliz further underscores the need for this change,” the report continues.
If the NYPD does decide to continue conducting traffic enforcement stops, the AG said officers should not arrest motorists who have low-level warrants, such as a failure to appear on a summons or bench warrants for violations like littering.
“The OAG believes that such a policy properly balances the risks to the community and the public interest in avoiding unnecessary arrests during car stops. In addition, the OAG encourages state lawmakers to consider whether this issue might also be more fully addressed through legislation,” the report states.
“It is highly unlikely that the incident involving Mr. Feliz – whose warrants (Sammy Feliz warrants) were for the violations/offenses of spitting, littering, and disorderly conduct – would have escalated in the manner it did in the absence of this automatic arrest policy.”
However, following a search of Feliz’s car after his death, police found over nine grams of cocaine and 1.3 grams of methamphetamines in tablet form and determined he was on parole for a previous federal offense, the report states.
“Because Mr. Feliz was under federal parole supervision at the time of the incident, possession of these controlled substances would likely have violated the conditions of his release and, if convicted for possession of one or more felonies, subjected him to a mandatory New York State prison sentence.”
James called Feliz’s death a “tragedy” and said her office is “gravely concerned” by the actions of Rivera and the other responding officers.
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