UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — In the latest escalation over plans to reopen the Hunter College Campus Schools for in-person classes next week, the union representing Hunter teachers filed a restraining order in state court Monday, asking a judge to block the reopening until the school installs filters that better protect against the coronavirus.
For weeks, teachers have denounced plans to reopen the K-12 school, which is administered by CUNY, and which staff say will be the only public school in New York to reopen without the COVID-19 protections in place at city-run schools such as randomized testing of students and staff, inspections of ventilation systems in each room and contact tracing of confirmed cases.
Also at issue have been the filters that the school has installed to recirculate air inside Hunter’s fortresslike school building on East 94th Street, known familiarly as “the brick prison,” which has few windows and has been plagued with ventilation problems for years.
The school contends it installed High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, which may help reduce the presence of the coronavirus in indoor spaces. The teacher’s union, however, claims that Hunter installed air purifiers, not HEPA filters, with untested capacity to curb the virus’s spread.
In-person classes are set to resume Sept. 29 for grades K-6 at Hunter, and Oct. 1 for grades 7-10. Juniors and seniors will start the year fully remotely.
“Teachers’ life-and-death concerns have been met with inaction by Hunter College President Jennifer Raab and HCCS Director Lisa Siegmann,” Barbara Bowen, president of the CUNY staff union, said in a statement. “Their demands for COVID testing, small classroom pods, independent inspections and other protections provided to students and staff at all other NYC public schools have been denied.
The 22-page petition, filed Monday in the New York State Supreme Court, seeks an injunction against the reopening, arguing that Hunter is not following its own stated plan.
It also asks a judge to force CUNY to allow teachers to send their own ventilation inspector into the school building — something administrators have thus far refused to do, according to the union.
A union spokesperson said staff hope a judge will grant a temporary restraining order this week.
In a statement, Hunter spokesperson Deborah Raskin said the school wouldn’t comment on pending litigation, but added, “we are confident that we have followed the highest health and safety standards.”
“Our students, teachers and staff are our top priority and we have made every effort, and completed extensive work, to provide for a safe reopening of the Hunter Campus Schools,” Raskin said.