ALBANY — With so much uncertainty facing school workers getting ready to return to classrooms, bus garages, kitchens and cafeterias, libraries, and school buildings in the midst of the global pandemic, CSEA is focusing on providing them training, resources and guidance.

The aim? To help answer their concerns and keep educational support professionals safe, as well as the school communities they support.

To that end, our union recently launched the Safe@School Initiative, a cooperative venture between the staff professionals in the union’s Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) and Communications Departments, the members of CSEA’s Standing Safety and Health Committee and the members of the union’s Special Local Government Schools Committee.

The result is a new web page, accessed by visiting https:// cseany.org/school-safety that provides education, tools and other resources. One highlight is a series of specialized webinars, exclusively produced by CSEA’s OSH Department for school workers. They include topics covering specific job categories within districts, including bus drivers, cleaners and aides/ monitors.

“There are so many questions about safely returning to school, whether online or virtual, that we saw a need to develop a specialized resource area just for the members who keep our schools running,” said CSEA President Mary E. Sullivan. “Our goal is to protect them as well as the entire school community they support. Utilizing the professional staff in our Occupational Safety and Health Department, we’ve pulled together some great resources to answer their questions and provide the protection they need and deserve.”

“Providing our school workers with the most accurate and up-to-date information as they look at reopening is our major concern,” said John Brown, chair of CSEA’s Special Local Government Schools Committee. “Combining the efforts of our statewide Safety and Health Committee with our schools is a terrific way to use the knowledge that all these members bring to the table. By joining forces, we should be able to identify health and safety issues that are of utmost concern and provide some guidance and information to them as they go back to work in uneasy times.”

“Opening schools not only affects the CSEA members, but will affect the teachers, management, students, parents and community,” said Jane Meunier, chair of CSEA’s statewide Standing Occupational Safety and Health Committee. “We have an opportunity to join our resources and knowledge, not to just protect one group, but to hear the concerns and do our very best to protect all those affected and make a huge difference. One voice for the safety of all.”

Matthew Kozak, director of our union’s Occupational Safety and Health Department, said department staff have been working hard to provide current resources to help ensure safer schools.

“We want to make sure that workers have the tools and knowledge during this very scary time to help them do everything possible to maintain the safest schools possible,” he said.

— Mark M. Kotzin

Safe@School: What CSEA members are doing to be safe

Editor’s Note: As this edition went to press, CSEA members employed by school districts were preparing for the new school year under many questions due to varied school reopening plans. CSEA school district unit officers and activists have been regularly discussing their concerns with one another, including at a recent, socially distanced meeting among Westchester County school district units. (Photos by Jessica Ladlee.)

DeVito

“My biggest concern is air filtration and the ventilation system. Our school is very old, and due to the age of our infrastructure, could only get a MERV 11 filtration system instead of the [recommended]MERV 13 system.

Our district has instituted a visitor policy. We have to know who is coming in the building and limit the number of people coming in and out of our office. Our office is small, so [we now have]a rolling partition and put Plexiglas around my desk because we’re not six feet apart.”

— Rosemary DeVito, president, Edgemont School District Unit

Herzenberg

“I’m most concerned about safety and who is going to contact trace. Are they going to shut buildings down for 14 days if there is a positive case? We made statements to the Board of Education and requested the 14 days.

I’m on several of our district committees that have been set up, so I’ve been able to ask questions and raise concerns on our members’ behalf. The district has provided each staff member and student with a reusable mask.”

— Adele Herzenberg, president, White Plains School District Unit

Khuns

“We never left [the school buildings]. As custodians, we can’t virtually fix a pipe. We can’t virtually paint. Our district has been good about keeping us informed and getting us our PPE. It’s important to remember that for many of us, we never left and we’ve been here getting the job done.”

— Tim Khuns, president, Peekskill City School District Unit

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Mark M. Kotzin

Mark Kotzin has been passionately advocating on behalf of workers for more than 30 years, and is proud to serve as CSEA's statewide Director of Communications and Publisher of the CSEA Work Force.

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