Deal to reopen Detroit schools includes Covid testing, hazard pay

August 28, 2020, 8:14 AM

This article orginally appeared in Chalkbeat Detroit.

By Lori Higgins

A deal to avoid a Detroit teachers safety strike would offer Covid-19 testing for students and staff, and provide teachers working in school buildings with up to $3,000 in hazard pay.

Those details are outlined in an email that the Detroit Federation of Teachers, which represents some 4,000 district employees, sent at about 8 p.m. to its members. Chalkbeat Detroit obtained the email later in the evening, but could not immediately reach union officials for comment.

“Our stance in talks with the Detroit Public Schools Community District has been: If there is choice for one, there must be choice for all — and that is what we have secured with this agreement,” Terrence Martin, the union’s president, wrote in the email, referring to members’ ability to choose whether to work in-person or remotely.

The Detroit district and the union had been at odds over safe working conditions for teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The deal comes about a week after union members voted to allow leadership to launch a safety strike if certain demands weren’t met. Such a strike would have teachers working remotely, but not in school buildings. Union officials have stressed that it would not amount to a work stoppage.

Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, in a statement from the district, said he hopes the district and union can work together to serve students and families.

The district and union had been at odds over safe working conditions for teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Lori Higgins/Chalkbeat)

“The need to serve our children never stops,” Vitti said. “Even in a pandemic, we need to find ways to best serve and support our children.

"For some of our families and students, this means face to face instruction and for others it is online learning. This agreement signals we will work together to provide equitable education opportunities for our children and families.

Added Iris Taylor, president of the Detroit school board: “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.”

Martin wrote in the email that the union hopes to have a new general contract negotiated with the district by Monday, Aug. 31.

Still, the authorization to strike remains in place, Martin said. He said union members will need to ensure the district follows the guidelines of the letter.

“If needed, we can invoke our rights under the strike authorization vote, as well as remedies contemplated by the new agreement,” Martin wrote.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti: "We will work together."

As part of the agreement, DFT will be conducting walkthroughs of buildings to ensure the district is complying with its COVID-19 safety protocols.

The agreement includes these provisions:

  • Ongoing Covid-19 testing for students and district employees working inside school buildings on a voluntary basis. Students and staff would have to consent to the testing.

  • All union members will be allowed to choose between face-to-face or remote work.

  • Desks that are placed six feet apart to encourage social distancing in classroom with the maximum of 20 students in a class.

  • Hazard pay for employees who choose to work in-person in the amount of a $750 bonus for each marking period through June 30, 2021.

  • The creation of a joint labor-management committee that will evaluate public health data from the tri-county metro Detroit area and make new safety recommendations when necessary.

You can read the agreement here.

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