Negotiations over COVID-19, teachers and sick days in Michigan continue

School COVID-19 cases are on the rise

Concern surrounding teachers and sick days amid pandemic

DETROIT – If you’re a teacher in many districts your sick time is judged by whether or not you are vaccinated, what the big teacher’s union has to say about that and it might not be what you think.

School COVID-19 cases are on the rise and it’s forcing a line in the sand for many teachers who choose not to get vaccinated, particularly in school districts that do not require masking.

Local 4 News looked into the complicated math of choosing which teachers get free quarantine days and what educators have to take a withdrawal from their own personal sick day banks.

So there’s a lot of contractual language keep in mind when a class is quarantined. It is possible that class can continue remotely with that teacher, but what we’re talking about is those cases.

Related: Tracking COVID outbreaks in Michigan schools, colleges

In the case where there is a COVID-19 related illness or inability to work because of a quarantine or other pandemic related reason, that’s where the line is being drawn in the sand.

The warriors of the classroom are doing what they can to jumpstart education. But less than a month into the start of school and COVID-19 numbers are going up precipitously.

“This week we have six positive cases and 43 quarantines. The week of September 13 through September 17 we had 48 positive cases and 353 quarantines,” said Dr. John Dignan, Superintendent of Wayne-Westland Community Schools.

Dr. Dignan, leader to the 10,000 students and 1,700 staffers in the Wayne-Westland Community Schools is concerned about the numbers and what it could mean to in-person learning despite the countywide mask mandate.

“We’re always going to be concerned in the throws of COVID-19,” said Dr. Dignan.

The low numbers this week because it’s only Tuesday based on past trends and what generally happens over the weekend. Dr. Dignan expects the numbers to go up by Wednesday.

In the Avondale School District in Oakland County masks in school are mandated, but Tuesday a big hit, 12 new high schoolers are COVID-19 positive, more than two dozen students are quarantined with a handful of teachers.

“Our educators want to be back in the classroom so badly and they are working so hard to do what’s right. That’s why we’re asking our communities to step up and do right by them. Do right by their students and follow the science to be safe,” said Paula Herbart, President of the Michigan Education Association.

Questions are surrounding how teachers are granted COVID-19 related sick or quarantine days that take them off-line for teaching.

In Wayne and Oakland counties it’s an individual district choice. Rochester Community Schools will cover all COVID-19 days regardless of vaccination status, but that’s not the case for Van Buren Township or Melvindale or Dearborn where teachers forced to quarantine will have to take withdrawals from their personal sick day banks.

For teachers who are vaccinated and charged their own sick days the MEA is ready to fight particularly for the 90 percent of its membership that’s vaccinated.

“Those school districts that are insisting that educators use their local personal sick day bank for COVID-19 related illnesses, we’re asking to bargain over that because this is an extremely unusual situation,” said Herbart.

In the Macomb Intermediate School District the agreement is across the board. If you are exposed to COVID-19 during your teaching duties and you are taken out of commission for COVID-19 related reasons, no problem, provided you are vaccinated.

If you are not those quarantine days are taken out of your sick day bank. For the largest teacher’s union in the state there is a slender needle being threaded for unvaccinated teachers who do not have legal exemptions the MEA is quick to say, they stand as their union, but individual members will have to bring the fight.

“What we have said all along is that is a personal choice. But personal choices have consequences,” said Herbart.

Michigan reported 7,185 new cases of COVID-19 and 35 virus-related deaths Monday -- an average of 2,395 cases over a three-day period.

Of the deaths announced Monday, nine were identified during a review of records.

Monday’s update brings the total number of confirmed COVID cases in Michigan to 995,910, including 20,700 deaths. These numbers are up from 988,725 cases and 20,665 deaths, as of Friday.

Michigan COVID: Here’s what to know Sept. 21, 2021

Editor’s Note: In the Avondale School District in Oakland County where masks are mandated, the average number of positive COVID cases over the past three weeks among students has been six students per week. Among the staff, the numbers are much lower with only two teachers and two food service workers testing positive since the beginning of the school year. Resulting quarantines vary depending upon the amount of close contact the positive case had with others. So far, the district has not had to require any classrooms to go into remote learning because of quarantine numbers but school leaders are keeping a close eye on reports today from the high school listing four students testing positive, resulting in eighteen students being quarantined.

About the Authors:

Paula Tutman is an Emmy award-winning journalist who came to Local 4 in 1992. She's a Peace Corps alum who spent her early childhood living in Sierra Leone, West Africa and Tanzania and East Africa.