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No Tenure For Bedbugs

I’ve been a teacher for 26 years. I don’t much agree with Mayor Bloomberg, and I’m not altogether sanguine over Cathie Black’s prospects as chancellor. Truth be told, I’ve disagreed with UFT leadership from time to time as well. But you’d think we’d all find common ground somewhere.

For example, there are bedbugs — we’re against them. We ought to do all in our power to avoid them. Yet Department of Education policy toward bedbugs baffles the imagination; it will not provide lists of schools that have bedbugs. That’s truly disturbing, and the rationale, that schools have few beds, is plainly absurd. (If you aren’t Lou Gehrig, does that mean you can’t get Lou Gehrig’s Disease?)

Right now the UFT and the DOE are fighting in court over whether they should release the names and scores of teachers who participated in a value-added experiment. The UFT says the scores are invalid and inaccurate, and the DOE seems to feel they’re of vital importance.

We can debate that, but can’t we agree that parents ought to be warned when their children are in danger of blood-sucking vermin? If my 14-year-old fails a test, I can point fingers at her teacher, or her school. Much as I adore her, I’d have to grant it might be her fault too. (I’ve personally known a teenager or two who’d neglected to prepare.) Still, if she brings bedbugs home from school, I’d immediately wonder why the school hadn’t warned me.

This might be a golden opportunity for Cathie Black to gain credibility as schools chancellor. She’s made a lot of controversial remarks about retaining teachers. With city class sizes already the highest in the state, it’s hard to imagine how fewer teachers wouldn’t cause them to explode. (Should city kids be in classes of 14, like her kids? Or will they be okay in groups of 50, like they were in the 1970’s, the last time teachers were laid off?)

Here and now, before even discussing that, we can do better. At PS 197, a DOE vendor botched a bedbug treatment, destroying books and supplies. Official DOE policy is to sit on their hands pending the results of an investigation. But PS 197 teachers took matters into their own hands, staging a carwash to raise funds for new supplies.

Maybe Black ought to roll up her sleeves and help. She need not wash cars, if that’s not her thing. But she could make sure the kids of PS 197 get all they need, even what the carwash failed to provide. She could get kids books now and investigate later.

I suggest before Black gets rid of teachers, she get rid of bedbugs, and do so with extreme prejudice. This will not only unite both parents and teachers, but also give her a real record of accomplishment. Perhaps future generations will sing her praises.

For now, though, at least we’ll have something positive to build on.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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