Flint, MI— Starting Nov.9, Flint teachers will be required to work from school classrooms instead of their homes.
Superintendent Anita Steward made the original announcement during a board meeting on Oct. 21. Staff was set to return Monday, Oct. 26 but she decided to extend the date on Friday.
Instruction will continue virtually but teachers and support staff must be onsite.
The district has no plans to return students to schools at this time, Steward said.
While at school, staff will undergo professional development training on “if and when” students come back, Steward said. The training, developed by Flint Schools’ Health Services team, will help staff learn to navigate the buildings with personal protection equipment in place should the students return, she said.
“The other thing is the materials and resources that staff use, they’re in the buildings. And so, while they’re teaching in the classroom, their materials and resources will be within arm’s length,” Steward said.
For Flint Schools, staff falls under the jurisdiction of the operations department, which the Superintendent has authority over. Operational decisions do not require action for voting by the board, Steward said.
Several board members raised concerns about the health and safety of staff.
Since the beginning of the month, Genesee County has seen record-breaking spikes in COVID-19 cases, the majority concentrated in Flint.
“I know we was speaking a lot about students, but we have to be concerned with staff also,” Treasurer of Flint Schools Board of Education Danielle Green said. “If it’s going up, it’s going up for everybody, so that puts everyone in danger. I think, at minimum, we need to take a vote on staff, too.”
Steward said that if staff stay in their office, do not congregate in large groups, wear masks, and follow social distancing protocols, their health risks are much lower.
“I’m trying not to say this. We also have staff that’s abusing their work time. We’ve had staff members who, when they were supposed to be at work, were at the gym. We’ve had staff members who, when they were supposed to be at work, at the grocery store with a cart full of groceries,” Steward said.
President of Flint Schools Board of Education Casey Lester said he warns against the district “misering” staff members’ time.
“I caution us to never get into the mindset that we’re managing our employees based on the amount of time versus the amount of work that’s getting done. We have staff members who are working from home in very crazy times right now. Maybe the only opportunity they get to go to the grocery store is during the hours of work because they have a husband or wife who is working and they’re doing the kids schoolwork at night. Maybe that trip to the gym is what’s helping keep them mentally stable because of whatever else is going on in their life,” he said.
Other board members said that returning staff to the buildings could be beneficial.
“There’s no angel that’s going to come down and tell us, ‘This what to do.’ There’s just no crystal ball…If the teachers are coming in and they’re in their classrooms, I just don’t see anything wrong with that,” Secretary Betty Ramsdell said.
Staff who do return to buildings will receive extra compensation in hazard pay. Executive Director of Human Resources Cassandra Washington is in the process of negotiating the terms of the agreement with union leaders.
The district does not anticipate children returning to school until 2021 and continues to follow the recommendations of community health officials.