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Overworked teachers file grievance, demand compensation

Should teachers be compensated for the amount of additional time and effort they have to put into their virtual lesson plans? The issue remains that teachers in the Dickinson school district are not equipped with enough prep time in between classes along with adapting to the new online learning classroom. This teacher grievance case is currently being discussed by the Dickinson Public School Board.

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Dickinson High School teacher David Michaelson, center, addresses the Dickinson Public School Board Monday evening at the Professional Learning Lab, as attorney Mike Geiermann and DHS teacher Marjorie Lehman look on. The two teachers and attorney explain their stances regarding a teacher grievance that was filed in December on how teachers are not being compensated for the amount of work and time they are required to put into their work weeks to accommodate to the online learning system. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)

When Dickinson Public Schools (DPS) kicked off the 2020-2021 school year, expectations for teachers increased. Given that the teaching profession caters to the needs of students and extra duties are expected, the issue of whether teachers should be compensated for the amount of extra time it takes to teach online remains.

The Dickinson Public School Board met Monday evening at the Professional Learning Lab for its regular scheduled meeting, addressing a teacher grievance that was filed by 18 Dickinson High School teachers. On Dec. 21, 2020, the complainant DHS teachers stated that they are “owed compensation as the result of increased workload because of the hybrid learning environment,” according to a DPS statement.

Attorney Mike Geiermann explained to the board on how this issue violates the contract between administration and teachers.

“... It’s not the money part of it, if you get bogged down to the money part of it, you’re not focusing on the right issue,” Geiermann said. “There are issues whether or not the contract was violated, and the rest will take care of itself.”

Geiermann said it’s important to understand the contract, and to not look at it as a “floor,” but a “ceiling,” Geiermann said, explaining, this issue entails “a definite amount of time and it deals with only the school day.”

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“When teachers get in this profession, they understand that they’re not going to get paid for weekends, they’re not going to get paid for nights and they’re not going to get paid for the work they do over the Christmas holiday. And we’re not here to talk about that. But what we’re here to talk about is all of the extra duties that are assigned to these teachers during the school day,” Geiermann said. “So once again, the fundamental question we have before you is whether or not the contract was violated. And in order to answer that question, you’ve got to have a serious discussion about whether it’s a ceiling or a floor.”

In order to settle this grievance, Geiermann pointed out four outcomes. One, the grievance will be dropped — which is far from likely to occur, he noted. Two, the grievance will be settled. The third option is to arbitrate this case. Finally, the fourth option is to litigate.

Geiermann noted that the best options to move forward are either to settle or arbitrate this case.

The teachers are seeking that the Dickinson School District pay each educator a prorated amount based on their current salary equivalent to additional assigned classes and preps in the 2020-2021 school year.

DHS career and technical education teacher Marjorie Lehman noted that online duties were impartial to the high school side. The elementary and middle schools had assigned shared duties to accommodate the virtual learning environment, whereas the high school was in charge of not only in-class duties but online as well, Lehman said.

“That’s where the discrepancy comes in as it is an extra, it is different and in this (scenario) different is more and more is a brief of contract,” Lehman said.

David Michaelson, DHS social studies teacher, said this issue is a “double standard.”

“I want to make it clear, we’re not here asking for pity. We know the profession we’re in, we know. As a coach, as a teacher, as an adviser … I get it. And I’m not complaining at all, that’s not what this is about,” Michaelson noted.

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Superintendent Shon Hocker addressed the teacher grievance, noting that this is not an issue of “us versus them.” Rather, this is about the students, he said. No new classes were added to a teacher’s schedule; the “delivery of instruction” had to adapt to the current standards, Hocker said.

“Everything we do as a district comes back to the DPS (Dickinson Public Schools) mission, and that is to prepare all learners for a lifelong success through a safe, collaborative and innovative learning community. The vision is success for all,” Hocker said. “... The administration contends that teachers were absolutely not asked to work beyond the scope of their master agreement. An expectation for all teachers is to differentiate instruction for students.”

Students need “special accommodations” based on their Individualized Educational Plan requirements,” Hocker said. Other students are absent a few times out of the school year due to sickness or vacation, or frequent absences for students involved in extracurricular activities. With the current pandemic, several students are absent for weeks at a time.

“In each of these circumstances, it’s an expectation that teachers continue working with students to help them eventually master the learning essentials,” Hocker added.

Michaelson added, "Due to the pandemic, some of the more was expected. Don’t get me wrong, we get it. We, teachers, understand there are going to be more things to do, (we have to) do things differently. However, a great deal of the more, we feel as teachers, has been piled on us — pandemic or not. And that’s why we’re really here.”

Related Topics: EDUCATIONDICKINSONDICKINSON PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Jackie Jahfetson is a former reporter for The Dickinson Press.
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