DOE Fails · NYC Schools · student voices · UFT

Teachers Have a Union… Why Don’t Students: How They Can Help Each Other When the DOE Fails (Part 2)

Students, organize! That’s all I ask, and all we need. Teachers and all other school staff have figured it out. The United Federation of Teachers has and enforces rules regarding how much time teachers can be asked to spend working, both in the classroom and outside of it. Imagine if students organized to support each other and negotiate with the Department of Education (DOE).

If the students organized, forming a syndicate, they could provide countless, indispensable services to other students. I’ve already described a few potential options, but there is so much more that a student syndicate could do. For example:

  1. Textbook Libraries

Both physical and digital textbook libraries/exchanges could be easily maintained by a student syndicate. Many schools use the same textbooks and most widely-used textbooks have ebook or pdf versions which a syndicate could make easily accessible to all students online, regardless of the school they attend. It could even give textbook access to certain students whose classes may not require a certain textbook, but who would benefit from having access to one regardless.

The syndicate could also make digital copies of physical textbooks. Scanning every page of an entire textbook is an immense task for one person to take on alone, but if divided over a hundred or so students, it suddenly becomes much, much easier. Once digitized, these textbooks could be distributed freely to all students so they could be accessible anywhere at any time. The same could be done for test prep books as well, before anybody writes in them. Nobody would have to worry about forgetting their textbook at school while doing homework or at home while doing schoolwork.

The syndicate could also organize inter-school textbook exchanges and repositories to ensure that everybody has access to physical textbooks when they need them. If a particular school library lacks the necessary resources, the union could help organize textbook sharing within a school and pool resources from other schools. This would even make purchasing textbooks more efficient, as a single textbook, purchased by the syndicate and shared could benefit many more students than just one student buying one textbook, even if they were to resell it at the end of the semester.

  1. Credential Libraries

Certain schools keep lists of credentials for accessing certain online databases, libraries, news sites, test prep sites, textbook supplements, etc. Students could share both school and personal credentials to all these sites. The DOE already makes many research and library sites accessible to public school students, but the syndicate could expand access to homeschooled students and anybody else who wants to learn. Some schools have their own, unique access to certain resources, and this could be shared more widely to benefit more students.

Many schools have systems whereby only a device on their internal network will have free access to certain websites like scientific journals or databases. A student syndicate could make and distribute an app allowing students from anywhere to redirect traffic through students’ devices in schools that have special access so that every student could access any information they need no matter where they are or what school they are physically in.

  1. Technology Libraries

Especially now, with distance learning, students need devices and internet access. Since the DOE has failed to ensure access for students, it’s time that students ensure access for students. Device borrowing, or ideally giving, could be effectively organized between schools when the student body of one school simply doesn’t have enough devices for all students to use.

Internet access is trickier. If a student doesn’t have access to wifi, they would have to go somewhere that does, risking exposure to covid. Ideally, they could go to a nearby empty building with wifi while passing nobody on their way there.

Realistically, these students should be given the option to attend school at the home of a student nearby whose family has already been vaccinated or is low risk for serious adverse symptoms or continued spread. Expanding this system beyond a single school should give students many more nearby options. This could also help students whose parents can’t supervise them at home by taking the responsibility of finding somewhere for students to learn off of parents and putting it onto students who are helped by syndicate organizers. Parents only have to vet to their own satisfaction the family at whose home their child would be attending school.

All of these suggestions could help students, and we, as students, could implement these programs if we organize. We don’t have to keep begging for the DOE to do their job.

If you have a device you would like to donate to a student, visit NYC School Tech. If you are a student who would like to help implement some of the programs I’ve suggested here, or you have your own ideas, send me an email at

What do you think?

More Comments