Detroit teachers OK ‘safety strike’ over virus concerns

August 21, 2020 GMT

DETROIT (AP) — Educators in Detroit concerned about exposure to the COVID-19 virus in classrooms and hallways have given their union approval to call a “potential safety strike” in which teachers would agree to teach and work remotely.

The Detroit Federation of Teachers insists the strike would not be a work stoppage with the start of the school year looming. Rather, it said the aim is to press the public school district to implement science-based safety protocols during the coronavirus pandemic.

Classes in Detroit are scheduled to start Sept 8.

Some districts around the country that started the school year with classroom learning already have had to shut down temporarily or alter plans as students and teachers later tested positive for the virus.


Friday is the deadline for Detroit parents to complete a survey on whether they want online or face-to-face learning for the first quarter of the school year. In-person learning will feature smaller class sizes and social distancing.

Parent workshops also will be held to help families with online learning. Other efforts include a homework hotline, mental and emotional support and food service support.

Teachers also can choose face-to-face or online instruction, according to district spokeswoman Chrystal Wilson.

But “choice on whether to work remotely or in-person is yet to be codified with signatures and guaranteed for all our members,” said union president Terrence Martin. “It is imperative that the district puts protocols in place to protect both staff and students.”

“This is the beginning of a fight to ensure that the health and safety protections for our members and our students are in place and enforced,” Martin added.

Detroit’s school board and district Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said in a joint statement that they are confident the board and district “in discussion with” the union “will result in a safe reopening of schools.”

In other U.S. cities, some school districts plan a mix of in-person classes and online learning to help maintain social distancing. Miami, Houston and Los Angeles are among those starting classes online only.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump’s administration has declared teachers to be “critical infrastructure workers” which could give the green light to exempting them from quarantine requirements after being exposed to COVID-19 and instead send them back into the classroom.


Florida’s largest teacher’s union filed a lawsuit against its governor and some education officials to stop school buildings from physically reopening until the virus’s spread in that state is under control.

Detroit’s teachers union said in a news release that 91% of its members voted Wednesday in favor of its executive board authorizing the potential safety strike.

Detroit’s district and others across Michigan closed in March as part of the state’s stay home order to slow the spread of the virus. Detroit lagged because nine out of 10 students didn’t have access to tablets, computers or the internet.

Foundations and groups later stepped up with $23 million to provide its 51,000 K-12 students with computer tablets and high-speed internet to help transition from classroom to virtual learning.