Officials with the Detroit Public Schools Community District agreed to terms with the Detroit Federation of Teachers on Thursday for reopening schools next month, squashing a threatened teacher “safety strike” to keep them closed.
The “letter of agreement” stipulates the DFT decides which members return to their classrooms, and those that do will receive a $750 hazard payment every marking quarter, as well as the ability to bring their own children with them, The Detroit Free Press reports.
The deal requires socially distanced classes limited to 20 students when schools reopen on Sept. 8. It also provides teachers who return with specialized training and free voluntary COVID-19 testing. Teachers who return agree to teach for at least nine weeks, through Nov. 11, according to the letter.
Michigan has left school reopening largely up to local districts, with guidelines for different phases of the pandemic. DPSCD officials estimate about 75 percent of parents in the district want their children to start the school year online, but have insisted that offering an in-person option is critical.
The DFT contends 80 percent of its members want schools to remain online only, and they voted overwhelmingly last week to authorize a strike if district officials did not agree to specific terms for returning educators. The agreement signed Thursday incorporates virtually all of the union’s demands, including a special committee to monitor the coronavirus during the reopening.
FOX 2 reports:
Much of the rules outlined in the agreement are contingent on the creation of a Labor-Management Committee on Schools Reopening, or a CSR. The group, consisting of three people from the district and three people from the DFT will meet weekly to review reopening issues and review coronavirus data in the tri-county area.
“It is our hope that through this agreement we can now collectively own the reopening of our schools to best serve our children and families while ensuring the safety of our employees,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said in a statement. “This agreement signals we will work together to provide equitable education opportunities for our children and families.”
“As a board, we all value the safety of our students, teachers and staff,” Detroit school board chairwoman Iris Taylor told the Free Press. “We believe our protocols and reopening plan will create a safe environment for learning during this unprecedented time in public education and we have committed to frequent reviews of the reopening plan as COVID-19 has proven to be unpredictable.”
Rank-and-file teachers like Ben Royal are convinced the agreement amounts to a death sentence.
“I am absolutely opposed to reopening the school buildings,” Royal said. “This deal does not change the fact that COVID-19 maims and kills people. It does not change the facts that Detroit is the largest majority black city in the country and we are facing a pandemic that disproportionately kills black people. Schools that open will become vectors of disease spread and the spread won’t be limited to the schools — it will affect the entire community.”
Royal is a warrior for justice with the DFT’s Equal Opportunity Now, By Any Means Necessary Caucus, he told the Free Press.
“In this public health crisis, the mantra of ‘choice’ is a lie used to cover for government and employer policies that are killing people,” he said. “The only correct ‘choice’ is the one that keeps the greatest number of people alive. For DPSCD that means keeping the schools closed.”