by Scott McClallen
The Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) voted Wednesday to authorize a strike if an agreement can’t be reached over COVID-19 concerns.
The vote, with 91 percent in favor, authorizes DFT leadership to call a strike if the union and the Detroit Public School Community District (DPSCD) don’t reach an agreement.
“Over the past few months, our members have raised concerns regarding the District’s reopening plan,” DFT President Terrence Martin said in a statement.
“Choice on whether to work remotely or in person is yet to be codified with signatures and guaranteed for all our members. It is imperative that the District puts protocols in place to protect both staff and students.”
Although teachers strikes are illegal in Michigan, the strike authorization means that members agree to teach remotely.
“The action we took today isn’t one that we wanted to take. It’s an action that we had to take,” Martin said after the vote.
Martin said 80 percent of his members want to teach online only while 15 percent want to teach face-to-face.
The American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) has urged local governments to reopen schools. Long periods away from school, the AAP says, interrupts support services for children and often results in social isolation. These factors make it “difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation,” the academy adds. “This, in turn, places children and adolescents at considerable risk.”
The Centers for Disease Control also said schools can reopen safely if safety protocols are followed.
The DFT has said members fear they may be forced to teach in-person even if they are uneasy or have pre-existing health conditions.
Every DPSCD school will offer families the option of online learning or in-person instruction.
The district said 75 percent of its 51,000 students will learn online while 25 percent will learn in-person.
“Teachers Have Options. No Teacher is Required to Teach Face to Face. Most students are selecting online learning,” the district tweeted Wednesday.
Return-to-school legislation passed this week allows local school districts to decide whether to hold instruction in-person, online, or a hybrid version.
DPSCD Superintendent Nikolai Vitti tweeted: “Conversations with DFT have increased over the past week and we are both bargaining in good faith. The reopening process is very hard, on multiple levels, but we will get this right for our students, families and employees.”
DFT is a part of the American Federation of Teachers union, which released 10 reopening demands in July.
The DFT will now return to the bargaining table.
“While we acknowledge the action taken today by DFT, we are also confident the School Board and the District in discussion with DFT will result in a safe reopening of schools,” Vitti and the DPSCD School Board said in a joint statement.
Masks will be required, temperature checks for students and faculty, and high-touch surfaces will be frequently disinfected, according to DPSCD’s website
For in-person instruction, students will attend five days per week with smaller class sizes, of 20 or fewer students in one classroom.
– – –
Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.