Detroit teachers oppose new school calendar

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News
Detroit schools DPSCD Superintendent Nikolai Vitti

Detroit — Detroit's teacher union is fighting back against the district's new school calendar, planning to picket in protest at a school board meeting next month.

Members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers voted unanimously Thursday night to oppose a new 2019-20 school calendar approved by the Board of Education for the Detroit Public Schools Community District on April 16.

Union members say they oppose the calendar for several reasons, including an additional five work days for teachers, a pre-Labor Day start and a shortened winter break from five to two days.

Detroit Federation of Teachers president Terrence Martin said the teacher's union has not agreed or signed off on the calendar, despite statements from the district that it has.

“We are very clear that the calendar not only affects students and parents but also our dedicated and hard-working DFT members," Martin said Friday.

"The reality is that our local has neither agreed to nor signed off on the academic calendar. Rather, we are currently at the table bargaining with DPSCD officials" on the 2017-20 contract re-opener language, Martin said.

Under the new calendar, the first day of school for students is Aug. 26 and the first day of work for teachers is Aug. 19. The last day of school for students is June 12, and it is June 15 for teachers.

Ben Royal, a DPSCD teacher and union member, said about 250 teachers voted unanimously Thursday night to oppose the calendar. The district has about 3,000 teachers.

The calendar includes five professional development days in August before the school year begins and five more days during the school year, which Royal said, requires teachers to work extra days for professional development when they are paid less than their peers.

"The DFT members are taking back control of our union, and we are tired of the conditions in Detroit, and we are going to stand up and do something about it," Royal said.

Royal said changes in the calendar were made around scheduling standardized tests, which "have no educational value."

Royal said teachers are calling on Superintendent Nikolai Vitti and the school district's board to rescind the new calendar and reinstate provisions of previous calendars, which had students begin school after Labor Day, provided a full week off in February and scheduled spring break after the Easter holiday.

Vitti said on Friday that union leadership along with all other employee unions approved the calendar.

"We plan to address misconceptions with the calendar with teachers, such as snow days and PD days. The calendar was created with several stakeholders, including students, parents," Vitti said in an email on Friday.‎

The calendar, which calls for 181 instructional days and 1,146 hours of instruction, which is 48 hours above the state requirement, recognizes a Muslim holiday for the first time.

Observance of Eid al-Fitr, a holiday which marks the end of Ramadan, is now included in the calendar for the 2019-20 school year.

The day of observance for Eid will change every calendar year depending on when the holiday falls, school officials said.

The new calendar also includes "make-up" days at the end of the school year in June — only if needed — for snow days to ensure students get the required instructional time.