Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says students, facing challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, had not returned to school this year. (Bridge file photo)

Community members, parents and teachers have expressed outrage at Detroit Public Schools Community District for the schools reopening plans. Now, food service workers, office employees and paraprofessionals who are required to return to work in-person have joined the protests. 

The Detroit Federation of Paraprofessionals and the Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees released a joint statement Tuesday afternoon demanding they receive the same health and safety provisions offered to DPSCD teachers. The demands include the option to work remotely, hazard pay for those who choose to work in-person and paid time off upon testing positive for COVID-19 without the use of regular sick days.

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According to the statement, school employees say they are being treated as second-class citizens.

“Our members always go above and beyond for our students and the school community and our demands mirror our dedication,” Donna Jackson, president of the Detroit Federation of Paraprofessionals said in the statement. “We want to work, but we want to do it safely.”

“Our members always go above and beyond for our students and the school community and our demands mirror our dedication,” Donna Jackson, president of the Detroit Federation of Paraprofessionals said in the statement. “We want to work, but we want to do it safely.”

Both groups met with DPSCD on Wednesday to negotiate terms and are expected to meet again on Friday.

Stephanie Carreker, president of the Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees said in the release that the district has called their work necessary but is “treating the employees as if they are expendable.”

DPSCD opened classroom doors in July to allow in-person summer school. The decision was greeted with protests from community members who stood in front of school busses to prevent students from getting to school buildings. Amid the protests, one group filed a lawsuit against DPSCD superintendent Nikolai Vitti, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. By the end of the first week of classes, fewer than 1 percent of students had tested positive for COVID-19.

Vitti has vehemently and publicly thwarted negative reactions to the district’s choice to reopen classrooms. In a series of Twitter posts over the last two months, the superintendent has reminded opposers that not everyone has the capability to support students through online learning at home. At the time, the state Legislature had not amended state rules requiring student in-seat time for state funding, which does not include virtual learning. 

The district released a draft version of school reopening plans earlier this summer for the Detroit community to give feedback before approving a final plan in July. However, the board meeting’s public comment period, which was held online to meet social distancing orders, was filled with complaints from the community who believe in-person instruction this fall unsafe.

In an email to BridgeDetroit, Superintendent Vitti said the district has already agreed to offer hazard pay to employees and teachers who are working in-person but has not yet determined the amount.  

According to Vitti, 12-month clerical staff have already reported back to work in person since June.

“This is not a decision unique to DPSCD,” Vitti said in his email to BridgeDetroit. “We are not aware of any Wayne County public school district not making the same decision regarding para educators and clerical staff returning to work F2F. All employees, including para educators and clerical staff, are entitled to paid district sick and personal time if they contract the COVID-19 virus after reporting to work.” 

Olivia Lewis is a reporter for BridgeDetroit. She was formerly a reporter for the Battle Creek Enquirer and the Indianapolis Star. She has also worked in philanthropy for the Kresge Foundation, the Council...

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