News Bite

Teachers Unions Called For Closing Classrooms; Students Now Facing Mental Health Challenges

Each of Michigan’s big education unions opposed in-classroom instruction

In August 2020, the teachers union at Detroit’s public school district threatened what it called a safety strike rather than comply with school leaders’ efforts to get teachers back in classrooms during the COVID-19 pandemic. An article published that same month in the Detroit Free Press quoted Detroit Federation of Teachers President Terrence Martin, who said that 80% of the 4,000-plus teachers in the union wanted to work remotely and not be present in the classroom.

Detroit’s school employees are affiliated with the nation’s second biggest teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan. In most Michigan school districts, the workplace has been organized by the Michigan Education Association, an arm of the nation’s largest teachers union.

The MEA released a member survey in November 2020, which found its teachers also did not want to be in classrooms during the pandemic. MEA Executive Director Paula Herbart called for classrooms to be shuttered until COVID case rates were lower.

The Detroit Public Schools Community District has shuttered its classrooms in 2020-21 and 2021-22. Tracking just how often school districts around the state closed classrooms is difficult.

Closing classrooms has had consequences for children.

Chalkbeat Detroit reported March 14 that the Detroit school district has hired additional mental health staffer to deal with a potential mental health crisis among students who were deprived of the classroom experience and personal interactions during the past two years.

The district has also launched a health and wellness campaign called Are You OK? It includes a mental health hotline for students, home visits to check on students, small group counseling sessions and mental health referrals for students and families.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.