Forty seven North teachers called out sick on Wednesday, April 28, following an April 26 decision by the Board of Education to adopt relaxed COVID-19 protocols. The move was not sponsored by the Grosse Pointe Education Association, the union representing teachers in the district.
The updated COVID-19 procedures include reducing the “close contact” range from six to three feet and lowering the quarantine period from 14 to 10 days. In addition to this decision, North social studies teacher Sean McCarroll delivered an intense resignation speech at the meeting, saying the relaxed restrictions put teachers and students at increased risk and calling on the Board to listen to educators. The speech has since been viewed over 60,000 times on YouTube.
“We’re not angry at the situation– we can’t control COVID– we’re angry at you,” McCarroll said. “We’re angry at you, and angry is a nice way of putting it. You don’t respect us – if you respected us you’d listen to us. You don’t appreciate us – if you did, you wouldn’t make our jobs literally impossible to do.”
Objections to the new protocols didn’t stop at McCarroll’s speech. On Wednesday, April 28, 116 teachers across the district took a personal day in solidarity, including 47 at North. Due to a lack of substitute teachers, several administrators took over teaching duties for the day, while some North students were placed in the gymnasium to wait.
“Beginning late yesterday afternoon, many Grosse Pointe North teachers submitted a one-day absence for today, Wednesday, April 28th,” Superintendent Gary Niehaus said in an email to parents of North students. “While I am disappointed that many of our North teachers negatively impacted our students today by being absent, I am pleased at how we came together and supported our North students during this unfortunate situation.”
McCarroll’s resignation follows a tumultuous year between teachers, administrators and members of the Board of Education, especially over the debate to return to full face-to-face learning. In a Nov. 22 email to members of the Board and central office administrators, former Board of Education president Margaret Weertz blamed the exodus of families on the district’s failure to provide in-person learning to students.
“We still need to educate kids and we are definitely not doing that,” Weertz said. “We have failure rates off the charts and giving them more of what’s miserable is not the answer. I want this administration to say we NEED to go back.”
Recently, as Michigan faced the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the nation, more than 100 teachers from across the district signed a letter asking the Board of Education to revert back to the hybrid learning model. Within it, North English teacher Alyssa Sandoval pleaded with the Board to “check on your teachers, as (we) are struggling.”
“It feels as if, once the vote was made to return full face-to-face, grace (from the Board) evaporated as our job responsibilities have near-doubled,” Sandoval wrote. “While our building administrators have checked on our mental health, we have heard no direct communication from higher leaders outside of a quick reminder that our teachers are “#1” in the state. I fear that if this culture does not change, the district will have to be worried about teacher retention as well as student enrollment.”
While the sickout was not a union-sponsored activity, Grosse Pointe Education Association president Christopher Pratt said Grosse Pointe teachers have always and will continue to put the interests of students at the top of their priorities. This mindset, Pratt said, is why the district has consistently earned a reputation of excellence.
“In light of our dedication to students, we were very disheartened to read (Niehaus’) statement today that publicly criticized our teachers who chose to use that leave time,” Pratt said. “If GPPSS wants to continue to attract the best and brightest to teach in our district, it would be in everyone’s best interest for the administration to refrain from attacking teachers for using leave time. The outstanding teachers of this district deserve better.”