Teachers unions in New York, Detroit and elsewhere are threatening to strike or take legal action if officials reopen schools to in-person instruction without meeting union demands.
Members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to authorize a teachers strike for the Detroit Public Schools Community District, the largest school district in the state, if officials there don’t heed union demands, The Detroit News reports.
A district re-opening plan announced last month calls for lower class sizes, daily cleaning, and safety protocols including masks and social distancing for students who opt for in-person instruction this fall. But teachers, parents and union officials have complained about the risk of reopening schools amid the ongoing pandemic, which has infected 104,000 Michiganders and contributed to about 6,600 deaths.
“It is not an action we take lightly, it is a vote of confidence that we will do whatever we need to do to ensure and safety of our members and students of Detroit Public Schools Community District,” DFT President Terrence Martin told the news site.
Under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s school re-opening plans, the ability to hold in-person or online classes is determined by the phase of the virus’ spread in different regions of the state. Detroit is in Phase 4, which allows for in-person instruction though most districts, including Detroit, will offer both in-person and online only classes.
“If the numbers continue to go up, then we may not be able to resume in-person instruction,” the Whitmer said when she released the guidelines in late July.
The DFT contends about 80 percent of teachers want online only instruction, while about 15 percent want to teach in person. Parent surveys show 75 percent want to keep their kids home, while about 25 percent prefer to send their kids to class, the News reports.
“Our fear is that there will be members who are forced to teach in person even if they are uneasy and or are those with pre-existing conditions,” Martin said.
Detroit school officials contend no teachers are not required to teach in person and promised to continue to negotiations about the DFT’s list of demands.
“Teachers Have Options. No Teacher is Required to Teach Face to Face. Most students are selecting online learning,” the district posted to Twitter.
The DFT wants a fresh school reopening plan approved by the union that includes hazard pay, opt out for staff with high-risk family, a health advisory committee and a delay on a full reopening until the state’s “post-pandemic” phase.
“Under no circumstances currently … are these schools in a state to reopen this fall,” protesting teacher Benjamin Royal told WXYZ.
It’s a similar situation in New York City, and other places with affiliates of the American Federation of Teachers.
The Washington Post reports:
The union representing New York City’s public-school teachers said its members would not return to classrooms next month unless the city met their health and safety demands — including testing all students and staff for that coronavirus and ensuring all schools have a nurse.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew threatened legal action against the city and said teachers would strike if the mayor tried to force them to return to classrooms. And he acknowledged that it would be virtually impossible for the city to meet the union’s health and safety demands before Sept. 10 — making a showdown between teachers and the mayor increasingly likely.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, elected with help from the UFT, pointed to the city’s positive test rate for the coronavirus of less than a quarter of one percent when he made plans to reopen schools on September 10.
“We’re going to work with them regardless of what they say,” de Blasio said, “because we care more about kids and parents than these games.”