Hello classrooms: Detroit pupils and teachers will be face-to-face in September

July 27, 2021, 8:25 AM

This is reposted from a nonprofit education news site.

By Lori Higgins
Chalkbeat Detroit

Teachers in the Detroit school district will receive $2,000 in hazard pay for teaching in person during the upcoming school year. More money would be available for those who teach in person and online.

A new letter of agreement between the Detroit Public Schools Community District and the Detroit Federation of Teachers was announced Monday. It comes as the district also outlined safety protocols they say will ensure student and staff safety, including weekly mandatory COVID testing for unvaccinated staff and a required three feet of social distancing.

Students and employees who are not vaccinated or who provide no documentation that they are will be required to wear face masks.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti: "We are all on the same page." (Photo: Detroit Justice Center)

The district and union had been working for months to iron out an agreement that will guide reopening decisions for the 2021-22 school year [starting Sept. 7]. Last year, as the city of Detroit was being hit hard with a disproportionately large number of positive cases and deaths, the district and union agreed to allow teachers to decide whether to teach in person or online.

Also last year, teachers who worked in school buildings received as much as $3,000 in hazard pay. The state also provided hazard pay of $500 to teachers and support staff across Michigan.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said during a school board committee meeting Monday that the agreement ensures that all Detroit teachers will return to school buildings in the fall. He has previously said a vast majority of teachers were expected back in school buildings.

He also has said recently that for the district to recover from the pandemic, students need to be learning inside school buildings. “It’s clear that … one of the most important things that we can do is open and bring students back to school in the fall,” he said.

“This agreement signals that we are all on the same page to restart our reform efforts that had great momentum before the pandemic,” Vitti said in a statement earlier in the day.

'What we love'

“Our teachers are excited to get back to teaching face to face,” said Terrence Martin, president of the teachers union. “We miss our students. This is what we love to do. We certainly want to make sure it’s done in a safe and healthy environment.”

Terence Martin: "We miss our students. This is what we love to do." (Photo: Facebook)

Martin said a significant piece of the letter of agreement is a provision that calls for lowering class sizes by three to eight students across K-12 grades. How much class sizes will be reduced varies from grade to grade.

“The science has shown that the fewer folks in the classroom, the less likely the spread of Covid,” Martin said.

He said he is also pleased that the agreement continues many of the mitigation measures that were put in place last school year, as well as new protocols, such as air purifiers being available for teachers.

Contract talks under way

The district and union are still negotiating over a full contract. Martin said he expects the full contract to be done before the beginning of the school year.

One issue that still must be bargained is Vitti’s plan to require unvaccinated employees to submit to mandatory Covid testing each week, Martin said. “It would be a change in working conditions. We would demand to bargain over that,” he said.

A return to school buildings by all Detroit teachers is a huge shift from the last school year when thousands of students who wanted to learn inside school buildings couldn’t because there weren’t enough teachers willing to join them.

More than 70% of district teachers have been vaccinated, Vitti said at a recent meeting.

In addition to the $2,000 in hazard pay, teachers who work in person and online will receive an additional $2,000.

The district for months has been doing weekly Covid testing and would continue to do so during the upcoming school year. The district would also continue to offer personal protection equipment for staff.

Read more:  Chalkbeat Detroit

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