Minneapolis Public Schools announced a move Wednesday to go digital for two weeks beginning this Friday.
The plan was enacted due to spiking staff absences related to the COVID-19 blizzard currently hammering the city, according to Superintendent Ed Graff. Earlier this week, Graff says, around 400 teachers called in—double what’s expected during non-pandemic times. Similar moves have been made by districts around the metro, from Fridley to Farmington.
Minneapolis teachers aren’t happy.
Greta Callahan, president of the teachers chapter of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, says that’s in part due to a lack of coordination between district officials and the actual teachers. “This new online plan was not co-created with those who will be implementing it,” she said Wednesday night during a Zoom press conference, noting that remote learning is “a safer option” than continuing with in-person lessons.
The biggest point of contention? The district’s expectation that educators must commute to their physical schools only to teach from a computer. If that sounds dumb as hell to you, you’re not alone.
“The plan to have 100% of staffing on-site is profoundly senseless,” Callahan says. “Many of our current absences are due to a staff member who has a child at home who needs to be there through quarantine or has Covid. They could absolutely teach from home, and that should be an option.”
The union’s board will discuss a strike authorization vote next week, Callahan warned.
“I was immediately overwhelmed by the information I was given,” adds union board member Lindsey West. “As a parent and a teacher, it puts me in a very sticky situation, to say the least. I can’t work at home, but you expect my child to stay home? And if I do bring her in, I’m exposing her. It’s just so frustrating that this is how we’re treated after all we give to kids.”
Why are district officials forcing educators into the workplace to teach online? We asked but didn’t immediately hear back. (Update: A MPS PR rep responded to that specific question midday Thursday with a YouTube link to yesterday’s Graff press conference.)
Some of the district’s roughly 30,000 students can still opt for in-person learning, for various reasons, though that’s not exactly what the current plan provides. Those students will be physically inside schools, Callahan says, but they’ll be strapped with headphones and placed in front of screens for “100%” of classwork while being supervised “by some of our lowest paid workers in the district.” Lunch is allowed, recess isn’t.
Educators began venting their frustrations online as soon as the plan was announced.
Regular classroom learning is expected to resume January 31. Curious what it’s like being a teacher amid an endless pandemic? Hear from Southwest High School social studies teacher Robert Kohnert, who authored this bleak report for our fellow startup pals at SW Voices.