February 1, 2021
Last Wednesday, Governor Whitmer gave her annual State of the State address. The past year has been a rough one, with a litany of challenges facing educators, students and the public school community. Fortunately, thanks to Gov. Whitmer’s leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic, Michigan is in a better position than many other states during this difficult time. In her speech, she continued to prioritize addressing racial disparities in access to care, fighting for equitable resources for classrooms, and mapping out a vision for getting our schools and our state out of this pandemic. She continues to have the backs of educators with the creation of the MI Classroom Heroes Grants and asking her Return to School Advisory Council, on which I serve, to help put Michigan’s schools on a pathway to recovery and help students make up learning gaps over the coming year.
Earlier last week, we were also pleased to see Superintendent Rice and the Michigan Department of Education seek a federal testing waiver for 2021 and we hope the U.S. Department of Education grants it. High-stakes, standardized testing is something that is problematic at the best of times, but during a global pandemic that has forced drastic changes across public education for students, parents and educators it only makes sense to focus on individual learning, rather than testing. This year more than ever, the limited time we have with students is precious, and should be devoted to learning as much as possible.
AFT and Black History
Whether you work in a classroom or not, I hope you’re finding ways to celebrate Black History Month at work and in your local. Our union has worked to be aligned with the Black freedom movement from our early days. The AFT was one of the earliest unions to condemn segregation and amended its constitution in 1953 to provide that “No charter of the AFT which defines or recognizes jurisdiction on the basis of race or color, or permits the practice of such jurisdiction, shall be recognized as valid, and the practice of any such local in limiting its membership on account of race or color shall render its charter void.” AFT was the only education organization to file an amicus brief in Brown v. Board. Our union also willingly suffered the loss of thousands of members in 1957 when we expelled the remaining locals that refused to desegregate. During the 1960s, the AFT ran more than 20 “Freedom Schools” in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi; staffed by AFT volunteers, the schools supplemented the inadequate education offered to black students. And the very first president of what was then the Michigan Federation of Teachers was Walter Bergman, who was also a “freedom rider” and lifelong fighter for human rights. This month, and every month, let’s all try to live up to and extend that legacy.
MDE and Library of Michigan Promote Equity in Literacy with Selections of African American Authors and Their Books
In celebration of African American History Month, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) and the Library of Michigan are excited to release the first week of outstanding African American authors and their literary works that have been selected through nominations from Michigan educators.
This month-long series is coordinated with MDE’s release of its Equity in Literacy resource guide to help local schools and teachers improve literacy skills of all students, with a particular emphasis on children of color and working class and poor children. Seven African American authors and their literary works will be featured each week during the month of February along with information about the nominator and a brief description of the nominator’s use of the work with students. The weekly calendar will be posted on MDE’s Equity in Literacy website.
COVID Vaccination Update
We all know that the rollout of the vaccine has been uneven across the state and nation and that many educators are understandably anxious to get vaccinated. Where I live in Oakland County, it’s definitely a challenge to get an appointment, but we are also hearing a lot of good progress around the state. Rick Jones, President of the Brown City Federation of Teachers, reports that every educator in Sanilac County should have their first shot by Wednesday as a result of great collaboration between the health department, area hospitals and districts. We continue to push in Lansing, and I know local leaders across the state continue to work with administrators, to get every member vaccinated as soon as possible.
Important Updates from the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency
Particularly given the constantly evolving discussions around another economic relief package in DC, it’s important for any members who are unemployed or underemployed to continue to certify (or reopen if necessary) in MiWAM. Pandemic unemployment benefits are now extended through March, and will likely be extended further in the next package. You can go to https://aftmichigan.org/unemployment/ for a basic FAQ. The Michigan UIA recently sent out the following tips:
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claimants who exhausted their previous entitlement of benefits on or before Dec. 27, 2020 can now reopen their claim to receive an additional 11 weeks of benefits. The additional 11 weeks are payable beginning with the week ending Jan. 2, 2021. Click here for more information about reopening your PUA claim.
- Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) claimants who exhausted their previous entitlement (on or before Dec. 27, 2020) will be able to reopen their claim to receive an additional 11 weeks of benefits, payable beginning with the week ending Jan. 2, 2021. Click here for more information about reopening your PEUC claim.
- Be sure to check your email, web notice or US mail with notification alerting you to reopen, apply or certify your additional weeks of PUA or PEUC. Visit the UIA website at michigan.gov/uia for step-by-step instruction and videos on how to reopen your claim for benefits.
UTF Organizer To Lead Central Michigan AFL-CIO
Recia Crawford, the staff organizer for the Union of Teaching Faculty, Local 6523 out of Central Michigan University, has been elected President of the AFL-CIO Central Michigan Labor Council. Recia started working at UTF in October of 2016. She was elected vice president of the Central Labor Council in January of 2019. Recia says she is honored to be the first woman to serve as president of the Central Michigan Labor Council and looks forward to working in this capacity with labor throughout Central Michigan to help better the lives of hard working union members and their families.
Upcoming Union-Building Workshops
|Using Google Docs for Organizing||Tuesday, February 23rd||4:30pm||6:30pm|
Upcoming Professional Development
Strategies to Support a Rigorous Learning Environment that Maximizes Students’ Academic Success PreK-14
AFT Michigan – Virtual Workshop
February 6, 2021, 8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
This in-service is designed to enhance and show educators how to add more rigor in the classroom by fostering real-world connections, engagement, and deeper learning.
Safe, Supportive and Inclusive Classrooms: Practical Strategies for Affirming LGBTQ+ Students
Michigan Department of Education Workshop
In this interactive workshop, we will explore day-to-day dealings educators have with their LGBTQ+ students and their non-LGBTQ+ peers in the classroom. We will explore questions like, How can I make my classroom inclusive? What are ways I can ensure my LGBTQ+ students know I support them? How can I intervene when I hear anti-LGBTQ comments? How can I teach lessons that are more representative of our student population? What if a student comes out to me? What are ways I can effectively collaborate with parents of LGBTQ+ students? Participants will leave with concrete strategies they can immediately implement in the classroom. A foundational understanding of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression is recommended, but not required. This workshop is geared towards teachers.
We are especially excited to have Owen Bondono, Michigan’s 2020-21 Teacher of the Year, as a guest co facilitator! The workshop size is small, so we will be admitting those who register on a first-come, first-serve basis with priority given to classroom teachers. The workshops will be highly interactive and engaging and will not be recorded. It is important that people only register for the workshop if they plan to attend the full 90 minutes on the day and time of the event. These sessions have been designed for live participation only and will not be recorded. For those in other roles in schools (e.g., counselors, social workers, administrators, administrative support professionals) and community agency staff, we would ask you to not sign up for this particular webinar and wait for other offerings geared toward broader audiences. See flyer for more information about the projects and other offerings. If you are interested in getting on the MDE LGBTQ Students Project mailing list to hear about future professional development opportunities, please sign up here.
David Hecker, President