NYC Teachers Federation Candidate Emphasizes Social Justice in Public Education

Dermott Myrie is running for president of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) — a labor union that represents a large group of teachers in New York City’s public schools. A Black union leader for the M.S. 391 in the Bronx’s District 10, Myrie has taught for 12 years.

Though the work of UFT is vital in the US’ largest school district — with more than 1.13 million students — Myrie argued that the union’s leadership is disconnected from its rank and file, which affects students. UFT President Michael Mulgrew “does not consult members, or rank and files for big decisions,” Myrie told The North Star. As a result, issues such as hiring and retaining more Black teachers, and expanding the curriculum to include ethnic studies (instead of a Eurocentric study plan) are left on the back burner. Mulgrew was unavailable to comment at the time of this writing.

“We have fought alongside grassroots organizations for cultural relevant education,” Myrie said. “Relevant curriculum for our communities is important, including for our transgender community. Usually the education is Eurocentric, so books should represent stories and narratives from Asian, Latinx, and Black students.”

Myrie said leadership has apathy for the rank and file of UFT. “When I was with a negotiating team, I was told by leadership that I could not talk about class size or decreasing segregation in our districts,” he said. Myrie pointed to Stuyvesant High School, one of New York City’s most selective public high schools, which only received seven Black students in the 895 slots of its freshman class last month. “We’re arguably one of the most segregated school districts in the country, based on reports I’ve heard,” he said. “People ask for integration where there are no Black or Latinx students in New York City, so that’s a big issue.”

The candidate is running on the social justice platform of his caucus, the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE). “There is no mincing of words when I declare that social justice matters in public education and it matters now more than ever. The UFT leadership should not dance around these issues,” he said. “We are a collective of educators ranging from occupational therapists and physical therapists, to counselors and social workers, to classroom teachers to paraprofessionals, to school secretaries, to all of the other members of our union.”

Schools will be struggling for years if leadership is “not listening to the teachers to come up with a formula or a protocol [to address our problems],” he noted. Myrie’s movement has received widespread support from progressive whites within New York City who have been “asking for Black teachers in their schools.”

Another point of contention for Myrie is the union’s lack of support for the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM), for which he is a national organizer. Earlier this year, the union that represents teachers of almost 300,000 Black students rejected a resolution supporting the movement in education. An op-ed published in the Daily News at the time stated that “New York City parents are alarmed and deeply disappointed that the United Federation of Teachers cannot confidently and proudly say that Black Lives Matter — in other words, that their students' lives matter.”

With respect to this decision, Myrie said that “basically there was no democracy.” Should he become UFT’s president, Myrie hopes to become the voice “moving forward to protect students, parents, and communities based on hire, as well as to retain more Black teachers.” Final elections will be held on April 17.


About the Author

Robert Valencia is the breaking news editor for The North Star. His work as editor and reporter appeared on Newsweek, World Politics Review, Mic.com, Public Radio International and The Miami Herald, among other outlets. He’s a frequent commentator on foreign affairs and US politics on Al Jazeera English, CNN en Español, Univision, Telemundo, Voice of America, C-SPAN, Sirius XM and other media outlets across Latin America and the Caribbean.