Union files complaint against Minneapolis schools over plan to resume in-person learning

A study released this week by researchers at the CDC found “little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.”

Left: Union president Greta Callahan. (Minneapolis Federation of Teachers/YouTube) Right: Superintendent Ed Graff. (Minneapolis Public Schools website)

A Minneapolis teachers union has filed an unfair labor practice complaint against Minneapolis Public Schools because of the district’s plan to return to in-person learning next month.

The Minneapolis Board of Education voted 6-2 last week in favor of a phased-in return to in-person learning for K-5 students across the month of February. According to the plan, classes will be cancelled from Feb.1-5 to “allow staff to get ready to welcome back students back into buildings,” meaning teachers and staff are required to return to work on Feb. 1.

Grades 1-2 will resume in-person learning on Feb. 10, followed by grades 3-5 on Feb. 22. Grades 6-12 will continue with a distance-learning model.

An executive order issued by Gov. Tim Walz allowed all schools to return to in-person learning on Jan. 18 so long as mitigation measures are followed.

Walz announced a mass vaccination effort this week that reserves 15,000 doses exclusively for metro area educators. Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Chapter President Greta Callahan said she sees this as “a great opportunity to delay until people get that second vaccine and go through this process to make sure that our students are as safe as possible.”

“They haven’t negotiated with us about the effects of its expedited decision to return to in-person learning. Rather, our employer has consistently and repeatedly limited any discussion of related issues to the potential to collaborate,” she said at a press conference Wednesday.

“The employer has been unwilling to either negotiate or enter into any memoranda of agreement regarding the changed circumstances and terms of conditions of employment,” she continued.

According to Callahan, the union hasn’t filed an unfair labor practice charge against the district since at least 1999.

In May, Callahan said, the district developed a five-phase plan for returning to in-person learning. Now, the district wants to jump from “phase two to phase five without using the intermediate phases.”

“There are a significant number of students who will need to continue to be educated in a virtual environment,” said Callahan, who noted that parents can still opt to keep their children in distance learning.

“The district, however, did not negotiate with our union as to how assignments would be made for staff to work with these distance students,” she added.

Shaun Laden, chapter president of the Education Support Professionals affiliate, said the district “revoked previously granted accommodations.”

“Not only did our district revoke these accommodations, but it also made a blanket statement that because it was returning to in-person learning it could not honor any of these requests going forward. This failure to even assess whether it is possible for an individual school staff member in a high-risk situation to work from home is in direct contravention of the requirement of the executive order, which does have the full force and effect of the law,” he said.

A list of demands released by the union calls for a voluntary return to the classroom, caps on class sizes, a COVID-19 testing and contact tracing plan, and more.

“All staff should have the opportunity to get the two doses of the vaccine before returning to in-person learning. We should not rush to any in-person learning before staff has this option,” the union’s petition states.

The union thinks that, like parents, educators should “get to choose” when to return to the classroom.

Some Minneapolis parents said they support the union.

“Standing in solidarity with MPS educators and recognizing that maximal health measures to protect the broader MPS community have not yet been taken, we pledge to retain our children in distance learning until Superintendent [Ed] Graff and the MPS board have addressed each of these concerns,” a parent petition says.

Meanwhile, a study released this week by researchers at the CDC found “little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.”