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Minneapolis St. Paul News, Weather, Traffic, Sports | Minneapolis, Minnesota | kare11.com

Minneapolis teachers turn off email for weekend

As part of quest to get a flexible day in the weekly schedule, union teachers plan to activate out-of-office auto reply on email messages until Monday morning

MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis teachers say they need time to speak to students one-on-one during the regular week, and to that end are asking the MPS administration to give them a weekly day with a flexible schedule.

"We have requested that our district allow us to have an asynchronous day of learning," Greta Callahan, president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, told KARE.

"During that time, we could have meetings with other staff members to collaborate, we could have one-on-ones with students and their parents or guardians. It has been met with a 'no' every single time."

They're hoping to renegotiate the union contract to build that flexible day as a work condition. To help make the point, the MFT members decided they would activate the automated out-of-office reply on their district email accounts beginning at the end of their normal workday Friday. They will deactivate it when their normal work week begins Monday.

"We’re asking for members to work the job they’re paid to do, which is you will fulfill all your contractual obligations and you will work your contracted hours," she remarked

"When you say it out loud it sounds so silly that this is even an action we have to take, most jobs you are paid for the hours you work, and we know that in education that is not the case."

Callahan acknowledged that teachers have always logged extra hours away from the school buildings to finish their work, even in the pre-COVID days of traditional classroom instruction. But the demands on teachers' personal time has skyrocketed during the socially distanced learning era ushered in by the coronavirus pandemic.

She said many of her union members report being online from early morning until late at night to handle grading, reporting responsibilities and email message.

"We have many site administrators now that are requiring their educators and students to be in front of the screen upwards of six hours a day, and teacher are desperately needing time to meet their students' needs," Callahan explained.

"In a classroom I could have my students reading a book, for example, and I could pull a student aside who was having a hard time and check in with them. That’s impossible when you’re in a Zoom room."

RELATED: Anoka-Hennepin moves to distance learning in middle, high schools starting Nov. 4

MPS District response

The Minneapolis Public Schools administration issued the following statement late Friday in response the MFT's demand for a flex day:

"We can all agree that this is a very a difficult time to be a student, parent and educator. Minneapolis Public Schools is grateful to all our staff who are working to create quality experiences for students and families during this pandemic. We know our dedicated MPS teachers want to do their best work for our students. We certainly appreciate the hours they are devoting to students, and recognize the stress involved.

"Knowing the heavy lift educators had in front of them, we collaborated with MFT in the development of how the school days would function for both students and educators. Together we agreed on reviewing the recommended daily schedules after implementation so that we could understand what works and what doesn’t and adjust accordingly. The time for that review is coming up as we near the middle of the quarter. We’ve had time for implementation and still have time to make the necessary adjustments before the next quarter begins.

"MPS will continue to collaborate with MFT as we have since the beginning of this school year. We meet regularly with both MFT and representatives of our many other unions. The president of MFT, Greta Callahan, sits on our MPS COVID Advisory Committee. We are fully committed to partnering with our unions, as well as to following the guidance of our health and safety experts at the Minnesota Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control in order to ensure the health and safety of our staff and students."