The message for Texas public school teachers is clear: Return to class amid a deadly pandemic or risk losing your livelihood.
“We want to start schools on time as scheduled,” Gov. Greg Abbott said earlier this month.
The Texas Education Agency (TEA), which sets public school guidelines, has stated that districts that fail to offer in-person learning will lose public funding, a dictum handed down by the current presidential administration. While Abbott and the TEA have recently signaled that districts will be given more flexibility in how and when they open, public school teachers are pushing forward with tomorrow’s Rally for Safe School Opening.
According to a press release, the car caravan and socially distanced sit-in will commence at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow in downtown Austin. The aim of the event is to protest the governor’s and TEA’s “unsafe school reopening plan.”
Through private messages and phone calls, several Fort Worth school district teachers have voiced concerns about the school district’s planned August 17 opening. Two teachers, who asked not to be named, said that they will quit or retire if asked to teach on campus. Students have been given the option of online or in-person learning, but teachers have not.
“With the [COVID-19] numbers that we are seeing, I don’t support” the district’s opening plans, one teacher told me. “The news from the district and state is that they don’t care about our health. [School district] announcements have come from Facebook. We were blindsided.”
Topping the list of concerns on the minds of Fort Worth teachers are: the inability to teach from home, the untenable mandate that children wear face masks, poor air circulation in classrooms, and a shortage of available sinks for hand-washing. While children have largely been spared from the worst COVID-19 symptoms (respiratory distress, high fever, vomiting), the teachers worry that children may not be as resistant to the disease as many think.
Rally spokesperson and public school teacher Kristin Carpenter said, “We are giving names and faces to the word ‘teacher.’ We are desperate to return to school, but it must be safe for Texas teachers, staff, and children.”
Rally organizers are demanding virtual instruction for counties that have infections rates over .5% of the population, hazard pay for all staff, protected paid sick leave for COVID-19-related illnesses, free COVID testing for all staff, and the option of teaching from home if anyone in the staff member’s home is immunocompromised, among other demands.
Event organizers encourage supporters to follow the rally on Facebook via Rally for Safe School Opening.