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Sewage, rats, and broken promises

An eyewitness account of a return-to-school nightmare

New York City public school teacher and MORE UFT-member, Keegan O’Brien, gives an outraged, firsthand account of the first day in one New York City school.

Today, teachers returned to the school I work at to find rat shit on their desks, broken ceilings leaking with sewage, and dead rodents in classrooms—not to mention virtually none of the protective equipment we were promised.

This is inner-city public education in the richest country in the world. Can you imagine, even just for a moment, what would happen if this was the reality in white, affluent, and middle-class suburbs. You can’t, because it would simply never happen.

Yet, for poor Black and Brown students this is just assumed, a reality we have been forced to accept as a given. On top of that, teachers and faculty are lectured and condescended to by the Mayor, the Chancellor, the DOE, and even our own so-called union “leadership” for daring to say what is painfully obvious to anyone with a pulse: these abhorrent conditions are immoral and unconscionable. It is unacceptable for human beings to work or learn in an environment where lead infested water is considered the “normal”.

This is the story the corporate news media will not talk about. These are the issues both presidential candidates will ignore. This is what apartheid schooling looks like. It is the compounded reality of concentrated poverty, residential segregation, and decades of disinvestment in urban public education. It is one America defined by two different social realities, organized sharply along lines of race and class. Our students deserve better. Their parents deserve better. We deserve better.

If these past few months have shown us anything, it is that no one is coming to save us, not a presidential candidate, not the mayor, not the chancellor, not even our own union leadership. If we have any hope of securing a safe re-opening, and winning the schools our students deserve, it’ll be up to the real change-makers of history: rank-and-file teachers, rebellious students, and outraged parents and community members. We’ll have to organize, struggle, and fight like hell.

If you haven’t already, please consider getting involved with the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE), they are doing the job our union leadership won’t do: demanding a safe reopening.

Sign petitions. Organize community protests. Write op-ed’s. Flood your elected representatives inboxes. We need to show the criminals and thieves who are running this city that New York will not allow the rich and powerful to abandon our children any longer.

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Keegan O'Brien View All

Keegan O’Brien is a New York City public school teacher and a member of MORE-UFT.