Minneapolis teachers union files civil injunction against district, says more safety measures are needed before reopening

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The teachers union in Minneapolis is working to delay a plan to go back into school buildings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers filed a motion for a temporary civil injunction, saying the district is making changes to contracts without bargaining and won’t accommodate requests, such as allowing remote work.

The union said schools shouldn’t reopen until more safety measures are in place, including more vaccine dose availability for educators.

"The District should not be permitted to implement a reopening plan that forces at-risk educators to choose between their jobs and their health, nor should it be allowed to reassign staff prior to following contractual safeguards, violations that will in many cases be impossible to reverse one instruction has begun," the union’s filing states, in part.

In a letter to Board of Education Chairperson Kim Ellison and Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Ed Graff on Jan. 18, the union demanded a chance to bargain over conditions related to the return to in-person teaching and learning. The union cited several topics to discuss, including remote work options, health and safety protocols, workload, disclosing positive COVID-19 cases, staffing and classroom plans and emergency plans in the event the number of positive cases reaches a dangerous threshold.

A letter from MPS Senior Human Resources Officer Maggie Sullivan on Jan. 21 replied that the district is "not amenable to formal bargaining," adding that the district is instead "open to ongoing collaboration and problem solving around issues related to returning to in-person learning and I can commit to working with you to review and adjust, if needed, our current engagement practices and schedule."

"You’re thinking about your family and how much exposure you might be bringing home. That’s a real problem," Lindsey West, a fifth-grade teacher at MPS, said. "As educators, we’re just beside ourselves. All we’re asking for is an opportunity to sit down and make choices and be a part of the decision-making."

KSTP has reached out to MPS for comment but hasn’t yet heard back.

The union held a meeting with educators Friday afternoon about the next steps after filing the motion. You can see that by clicking the video box below.

Meanwhile, the St. Paul Public Schools district is preparing to welcome thousands kindergarten through second grade students back to school Monday, as part of the district’s phased reopening.

The St. Paul Federation of Educators voiced concerns about the reopening Friday, saying 93% of teacher’s union members currently have ‘no confidence’ in the district’s plan.

"Is that what’s best for our students, for them to have to come back and be with a teacher they haven’t been with all year, only to be bounced out again when COVID hits their particular buildings?" SPFE President Nick Faber asked.

Faber said he believes the return to school is happening at a ‘hurried’ pace and that many teachers would like to see it delayed until staff can be vaccinated.

"It is unacceptable from our school district to put this stuff out so rapidly and not work through the staff, make sure it is internalized into their classroom plans and that we are totally safe and ready to return," Faber said.

St. Paul Superintendent Joe Gothard responded with the following statement:

"My team and I have been working non-stop since March to develop thoughtful, inclusive plans to safely return our students, teachers and staff to their classrooms. Those plans include adherence to Minnesota’s Safe Learning Plan Guidelines and emphasis on social distancing; availability of PPE for all students, teachers and staff; and enhanced building/classroom ventilation and sanitizing.

"Since September we have spent more than 70 hours meeting face to face with SPFE leadership. We’ve talked about and agreed to many provisions to ensure safety on our busses, throughout our buildings and in each of our classrooms. Their input has been considered in our plans to return to school.

"With the first day of in-person learning for more than 5,000 our youngest learners just hours away, I would hope we can all build upon what’s best for our students and work together to make reopening our schools as safe and meaningful as possible.”