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Baltimore City teachers union files complaint against school district over 4 workdays at end of academic year

The Baltimore Teachers Union has filed a complaint over a decision by the school system’s top leaders to require them to work four additional days at the end of June, days they say the contract does not require.

The fierce tug of war is over whether the teachers had already worked the 190 days their contract required by June 16 when classes ended. The BTU contends its members worked four days — March 16 through March 19 — when school buildings were first shut down because of the coronavirus, but the school system disagrees.

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After negotiations over the issue broke down in May and early June, Baltimore City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises told the teachers they must work for four days doing professional development, said BTU President Diamonté Brown.

“We are filing a class-action grievance to get compensation for these four days,” Brown said. While school leaders have asked them to work the days to help children, she said, they cannot be “bullied” into working for free.

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“We are standing up for ourselves. We love our students. Everyone knows that we go above and beyond every day,” she said.

City school officials said in a statement that they had “engaged in good faith negotiations with BTU on these professional development days but were unable to reach an agreement that we believed would best serve our students.”

Given that there were challenges faced by staff this spring, school officials said, “the use of those days for professional development at the end of this school year was the best option as we plan for our education recovery efforts in the fall.”

School leaders said they appreciated the work of the teachers and were disappointed they had filed the grievance. The training provided teachers in the four days after classes were over was well attended and the feedback they have gotten was good, they said.

Brown said the teachers and the assistant teachers, known as paraprofessionals, spent the early days after school buildings shut due to the coronavirus preparing work packets, setting up online communication systems and classrooms for virtual lessons and answering questions for families and students. While the leadership thanked teachers in emails and acknowledged their work, Brown said, the district did not believe they were required to pay teachers for the days.

The BTU membership voted down a number of proposals during the talks with school leaders, including one that would have required teachers to start four days early in the fall. The teachers asked that they be paid for the professional development and that it be on a flexible schedule that allowed them to do it at a time when they would not need to provide child care for their families. Those were rejected by school leaders, according to the BTU.

Talks over the issue broke down and the school leaders sent out a letter to staff saying that the last day would be June 23. The union leadership said it learned of the decision at the same time as teachers did.

The matter will go to an arbitrator chosen by the school system and the union.

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