Detroit district, union agreement gives teachers $2,000 to work inside school buildings

Textbooks are in the foreground with students seated at desks in the background.
An agreement between the Detroit Public Schools Community District and the Detroit Federation of Teachers could net some teachers an additional $4,000 in pay. (Anthony Lanzilote for Chalkbeat)

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 and came 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 3 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.

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. 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.

“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.”

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.

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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.

Martin said the district and union are still negotiating over a full contract. Once final, the letter of agreement will be part of the full contract agreement, which would be voted on by union members. 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.

“That’s not something we have had a discussion about at the bargaining table. Obviously 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.

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

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

The district’s school board approved a plan July 13 to open a new virtual school — called the Detroit Virtual School Program — that will be operated independently. There would be limits on who can enroll in the virtual school. For instance, students who failed at least one class last school year and those who were chronically absent would not be able to enroll unless they have a medical reason that requires remote learning.

The agreement with the union spelled out some safety protocols that will be in place when the school year begins Sept. 7. Vitti provided more details during the committee meeting.

He said that while the mask policy would not require masks be worn by those with proof of vaccination, that policy could change.

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“That would be revisited if infection rates increase at a high level throughout the city or at a [specific] school.”

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.

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