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After Second 'Sickout,' Detroit Teachers To Return To Work Wednesday

Detroit teachers march outside the district headquarters on Monday. Nearly all of Detroit's public schools were also closed on Tuesday as teachers protest a funding gap that could mean lost paychecks.
Carlos Osorio
Detroit teachers march outside the district headquarters on Monday. Nearly all of Detroit's public schools were also closed on Tuesday as teachers protest a funding gap that could mean lost paychecks.

Detroit's public school teachers say they will return to their classrooms on Wednesday. Detroit schools were closed for two days, after many teachers called in sick to protest a budget shortfall that could mean no pay for hours they've already worked.

The announcement from the Detroit Federation of Teachers came hours after Michigan lawmakers advanced a $500 million plan to restructure Detroit public schools by creating a new district, The Associated Press reports.

Though the teachers union still criticized parts of the bill — namely that it would change existing labor agreements — the group said it would "encourage members to go back to school Wednesday based on discussions with the district's state-appointed transitional manager, Steven Rhodes," according to the AP.

As The Two-Way has reported, public schools are currently funded only through June. Unless comprehensive spending legislation is passed, teachers who opt to get paid throughout the calendar year will not get paychecks for work done prior to the summer.

That's the case for "well over half of all instruction staff," Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek tells our Newscast unit. The Detroit News, citing Detroit Public Schools spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski, reports that teachers on the extended pay schedule would potentially miss four paychecks, "costing them an average of $9,700 or 15 percent of their pay."

With more than 1,500 teachers calling in "sick" on Monday, more than 45,000 students were out of school, according to the AP.

One parent told CNN that she had an "instant splitting headache" when she heard about the school closures:

"This is one of the most tumultuous school years our kids have experienced," said Sharlonda Buckman, CEO of the Detroit Parents Network. "They aren't getting what they need. It's disturbing. First in January ... [now] we're in May and this is still happening."

Teachers held sickouts in January to protest poor conditions, as Cwiek has reported on All Things Considered.

In a statement on the union website, the Detroit Federation of Teachers said it met with public schools Transition Manager Steven Rhodes "and other decision makers" on Monday "to get an assurance that our members will be paid for their work."

"Still, they refuse to say the three words our members need to hear: 'I guarantee it,' " DFT adds. "Their failure to give us that guarantee is tantamount to a lock-out. And since we have not gotten the guarantee that members will be paid."

The legislation to solidify this funding was up for debate in Michigan's House of Representatives on Tuesday. The state Senate passed a similar package in March.

But there are key differences between the House and Senate versions, MLive reports, including whether to establish a Detroit Education Commission and whether to give back local control of the school board.

State House Speaker Kevin Cotter said the teachers union "is once again putting the wants of adults ahead of the needs of children." The statement, posted Monday, added:

"These egotistical teachers have lashed out at the children who rely on them and accomplished nothing but disrupting their students' education. Their selfish and misguided plea for attention only makes it harder for us to enact a rescue plan and makes it harder for Detroit's youngest residents to get ahead and build a future for themselves."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Dana Farrington is a digital editor coordinating online coverage on the Washington Desk — from daily stories to visual feature projects to the weekly newsletter. She has been with the NPR Politics team since President Trump's inauguration. Before that, she was among NPR's first engagement editors, managing the homepage for NPR.org and the main social accounts. Dana has also worked as a weekend web producer and editor, and has written on a wide range of topics for NPR, including tech and women's health.

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