Preparing for Reopening
The following documents are available for locals to use as necessary. For further questions or for strategy development, local leaders are encouraged to work with their AFT Michigan Staff Representative.
- Demanding to Bargain the Impact of Reopening Plans
- Addressing Dangerous Working Conditions
- AFT COVID-19 Bargaining Resources
Additionally, there are checklists prepared by AFT which can be used to prevent exposure to the coronavirus in the workplace:
- Workplace Checklist for Prevention of Exposure to SARS-CoV-2 Virus in K-12 Education
- Workplace Checklist for Prevention of Exposure to SARS-CoV-2 Virus in Public Employment
- Workplace Checklist for Prevention of Exposure to SARS-CoV-2 Virus in Higher Education
- Hospital Preparedness Plan for COVID-19/All Hazards
Michigan’s Return to School Roadmap
Governor Whitmer’s MI Safe Schools Return to School Roadmap provides a framework to help districts protect students and employees. With Kym Wregglesworth, President of the Onaway Federation of Teachers, AFT Michigan David Hecker served on the Advisory Council that provided recommendations to the Governor. The Advisory Council included public health experts as well as educators, elected officials, parents and students.
The Roadmap works to strike a balance between safety and the knowledge that nothing replaces a teachers and staff interacting with students inside schools and classrooms. Decisions about whether in-person education is allowed will be linked to the phase a region is in based on the data points in the overall Michigan Safe Start Plan. While educators did tremendous work with distance learning from March through June, relying solely on distance learning has a disparate negative impact on low income students, people of color, and students with special needs, given the digital divide and other factors.
Districts are responsible for developing local plans based on the Governor’s requirements and recommendations. Nothing prevents a district from including more stringent requirements in their plan. It is imperative that local unions take on the responsibility of demanding that plans are developed with us. This should include a demand to bargain the impact of the plan and all mandatory subjects of bargaining, including issues of health and safety.
The Roadmap was not intended to, and could not possibly, answer every question. Working with special needs students, enforcement of policies, needed funding (the Governor has taken a step in the right direction by providing $256 million), shared or traveling staff are just some. All the more reason local unions must demand to be involved in all aspects of developing and implementing local plans.
AFT Plan to Safely Reopen Schools
As the pandemic is a fluid situation, the AFT has revised its Reopening Schools Safely Guide that was first released this past April.
The AFT’s detailed, science-based “Plan to Safely Reopen America’s Schools and Communities” features five core pillars based on the science as well as educator and healthcare expertise—not on politics or wishful thinking.
To gradually reopen, we need to:
- Maintain physical distancing until the number of new cases declines for at least 14 consecutive days. Reducing the number of new cases is a prerequisite for transitioning to reopening plans on a community-by-community basis.
- Put in place the infrastructure and resources to test, trace and isolate new cases. Transitioning from community-focused physical distancing and stay-in-place orders to case-specific interventions requires ramping up the capacity to test, trace and isolate each new case.
- Deploy the public health tools that prevent the virus’ spread and align them with education strategies that meet the needs of students.
- Involve workers, unions, parents and communities in all planning. Each workplace and community faces unique challenges related to COVID-19. To ensure that reopening plans address those challenges, broad worker and community involvement is necessary. They must be engaged, educated and empowered.
- Invest in recovery: Do not abandon America’s communities or forfeit America’s future. These interventions will require more—not less—investment in public health and in our schools, universities, hospitals, and local and state governments. Strengthening communities should be a priority in the recovery.
The blueprint acknowledges Americans’ eagerness to return to some semblance of “normal.” But to do so, we must meet an unprecedented challenge: figuring out how to reimagine our society and the physical places we hold dear—public schools, places of worship, workplaces, restaurants and more—in ways that put our ultimate priorities first: the safety and well-being of working families, especially frontline workers, and the economic health of society.
The comprehensive document shows how, to effectively respond to the crisis, we must plan and align logistics, educational strategies and public health approaches into one coherent response. And we expect the plan to evolve as the data, and the facts, change.
The CDC issued new guidance for schools. The actual tools and resources that the CDC approved are very helpful. We encourage members to review this updated guidance when creating and implementing the COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plans.
Guidance on Reporting to Work
The most important thing right now is for people exhibiting symptoms of respiratory illness (fever, cough, shortness of breath, pneumonia) to stay home and isolate themselves to prevent further spread of illness, and to call their health care provider or county health department for guidance before physically going to a health care facility.
However, engaging students in learning, providing meals to students and families, disinfection of buildings, and ensuring payroll is processed is also of paramount importance, and will require many school employees to continue working. Any work that can be done remotely should be, but essential functions that require people to be in common workplaces will require additional care to ensure the safety of everyone involved. Information about proper social distancing, hand-washing, and cleaning procedures can be found in the CDC’s recommendations for preventing the transmission of disease.
We have heard from some leaders concerned that members are being asked to do work outside of their normal duties. In a crisis such as this, we do recognize that it is important that all capable hands are on deck. However, it is very important the health and safety of all workers are protected, and we advise local leaders to work with their employers and their AFT Michigan staff representatives to make sure that member rights and safety are protected in these circumstances.
Persons who do not show symptoms and have not been exposed to the virus will have to comply with directives that they report for work. And individuals may be assigned to tasks different than their customary work. If a member is asked to do something they reasonably think is unsafe, they have the right to protect their health and safety. Members should contact a union representative before refusing or carrying out directives they feel jeopardize their health or safety.
We ask that local union leaders move quickly to work with administrators to establish reasonable policies that maximize public health while accomplishing essential work. Local unions have the right to negotiate over policies and their impact, including pay for time not working, appropriate training, and compensation for extra or unfamiliar assignments. Additionally, local leaders should alert AFT Michigan staff representatives of any concerns or to request support in working with administration on procedures.
MDE and Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Release Guidelines for Providing Food Service
The Michigan Department of Education has received many questions about school nutrition personnel and volunteer safety for meal preparation and distribution during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the Michigan Department of Education and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) jointly developed Best Practices for School Food Service Providing Meals During the COVID-19 Outbreak. The document is intended to help school nutrition and meal transportation personnel make informed decisions about COVID-19 to minimize the risk of exposure to staff and their families, as well as the children and families receiving meals.
AFT Best Practices for Using Cloth Face Coverings
Every day, we face the challenge of limiting our exposure to COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends that you should cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when you have to go out in public—to the grocery store, for example, or to pick up other necessities. Cloth face coverings may have a place in guarding against exposure, but it’s important to understand where they fit in the overall protection strategy. It is also important that individuals do not use a surgical mask or N95 respirator meant for a healthcare worker.
- Right now, there is a shortage in the medical community of surgical masks and N95 respirators, and there will be even fewer if the public starts buying them en masse.
- Surgical masks and N95 respirators should be reserved for those most at risk—our healthcare workers and emergency responders.
- Most people do not need the high level of protection offered by a medical mask—the potential for exposure is much lower in a grocery store, for example, than in a hospital.