Detroit schools, teachers’ union clash over mask policy

(The Center Square) – About 53,406 kids attending Detroit Public Schools Community District still must wear a mask through the end of the regular school year because of an agreement with a teacher’s union.

The last day of the regular school year is June 27. The union agreement ends June 30.

DPSCD Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti said the Detroit Federation of Teachers still wants a mask mandate. In February, the state and counties dropped the requirement but left local decisions to each school.

“DFT is not supportive of voluntary masking and states that it would violate their Reopening of Schools LOU (letter of understanding), which expires June 30, 2022,” Vitti said in a statement.

“At this point, I am not interested in spending time and resources in court about masks with DFT. The Reopening LOU with DFT expires June 30th. The worst case situation is that we will shift to voluntary masking districtwide on July 1st unless the federal or state health departments require masking in schools. I doubt this will happen. I am hopeful that DFT will reconsider their position before July 1st.”

In February, Michigan’s dropped mandatory mask mandates but left local decisions to each school. DFT says dropping the mask mandate would violate the reopening deal’s safety precautions expiring June 30, which requires mandatory daily screenings and temperature checks, three feet of social distancing for student seating, and contact tracing. DPSCD must provide personal protective equipment if requested.

Detroit teachers who choose to either instruct in person or virtually will get a $2,000 hazard pay bonus.

DFT hasn’t responded to multiple requests for comment about their mask policy. Chalkbeat reported that DFT would sue the school if Vitti lifted the mask mandate early.

DPSCD and DFT sealed a return to in-person learning deal after more than a year of remote learning that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say harmed students’ mental health, and annual assessments show hurt reading and math grades.

A new working paper from the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, which analyzed testing data from 2.1 million students in 49 states plus D.C., found that “remote instruction was a primary driver of widening achievement gaps.”

“We estimate that high-poverty districts that went remote in 2020-21 will need to spend nearly all of their federal aid on academic recovery to help students recover from pandemic-related achievement losses,” researchers wrote.

DPSCD received $1.3 billion in federal one-time stimulus money.