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Eastpointe Middle returns to in-person classes after teacher resignations left school short-staffed

DONGSEON KIM/DONGSEON - stock.adobe.com
Updated: September 27, 2021 at 8:48 AM EDT
Eastpointe Middle School will return to face-to-face learning this week.

The school switched to all-virtual learning last week. That’s because several teachers abruptly resigned, leaving the school short-staffed.

Eastpointe Middle School Principal Stephanie Fleming says the school has added three new staff members as replacements, and has “a few more in the pipeline to bring onboard.”

It’s not clear what caused the teachers to abruptly resign. Both district and Eastpointe teacher’s union leaders say there doesn’t appear to be one major, precipitating factor.

What is clear is that Eastpointe, like many school districts, is struggling to fill staff positions right now.

While the situation at the middle school seems to have been resolved for now, the district is still short-staffed. It’s looking to hire more teachers, bus drivers, and paraprofessionals.

Eastpointe Community Schools Superintendent Ryan McLeod says there’s no magic bullet that will fix a nationwide teacher shortage. But he says the district has a multi-faceted plan to attract and retain staff.

One Detroit-area middle school has switched to virtual learning for at least this week, and it’s not because of COVID-19 cases.

It’s because several teachers at Eastpointe Middle School resigned suddenly last week, leaving the school short-staffed.

Caitlyn Kienitz, a spokesperson for Eastpointe Community Schools, said three of 19 teachers at the school resigned. The district was already short-staffed when this happened.

“By moving our students to virtual, we’re able to make sure we’re getting all their core classes from a certified teacher, while we try to fill in these gaps and get more teachers in our classrooms,” Kienitz said.

Kienitz said the district hopes it can do that and return students to face-to-face learning by next week. She said the district was already looking to hire educators before this happened, and hopes that pipeline comes through—but there’s no guarantee. “Whether or not we will be able to bring the kids back on Monday is going to depend on how quickly we can move on that,” she said.

Kienitz said there doesn’t appear to be one major incident or reason that caused the resignations, and COVID-19 safety didn’t seem to be a factor. Eastpointe is in Macomb County, which does not have a school mask mandate, but Eastpointe Community Schools does.

Lincoln Stocks, head of the Eastpointe Federation of Educators, agreed that there was no single, major cause behind the resignations. He said the district and the union just ratified what he called a “decent” contract this summer.

Rather, Stocks said increasing pressure on and disrespect toward educators, combined with low pay in some places, is driving people out of the profession. He said that leads to districts competing with each other over the remaining teachers, sparking some to make mid-year moves for better opportunities.

“Obviously, it’s disappointing that some teachers would just leave without giving at least two weeks’ notice,” Stocks said. “But we’re seeing educators leaving the profession all over the place, and the ones that remain are jumping around because they can.”

Eastpointe Community Schools spokesperson Caitlyn Kienitz agrees. “It's not one specific reason. It's not one specific incident,” she said. “It's this build-up of multiple factors that COVID has basically put a magnifying glass on.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.