March 17 Covid-19 email update

All Texas AFT Covid-19 Updates can now be found on the web here.

Today’s update:

  • ​STAAR testing effectively cancelled​
  • Open Letter to Districts and School Employees: Texas AFT has heard from many members about their concerns over pay and forced attendance at work and/or meetings during times of extended closures.
  • TEA ongoing guidance and resources from TASA
  • TRS information on operations and health care
  • Local district employees and volunteers doing heroic work to feed students​​

Austin ISD employees deliver curbside meals to students.

STAAR testing effectively cancelled

On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott used his authority to waive any requirements for STAAR assessments, and he requested that the federal government waive federally mandated requirements.

While the U.S. Department of Education and Betsy DeVos have put out guidance and indicated that they may consider waivers to requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), it is clear that with school closures increasing nationwide that significant pressure will be put on DeVos to grant the requests.

Questions still remain over certain aspects of testing, like End of Course exams and federal/state requirements like attendance. But it’s likely that clarifications will continue to be issued in the coming days and weeks.

​Open Letter to Districts and School Employees

Texas AFT has heard from many members about their concerns over pay and forced attendance at work and/or meetings during times of extended closures.

The Texas Education Agency, to date, has allowed districts to make local decisions on closures and work, but those decisions must be made with the foremost goal of protecting the health of students, school employees, and the community. These decisions should be based on recommendations of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control:

Current guidance and other resources from TEA can be found here.

While we understand that districts must maintain their operations and possibly provide for remote instruction, we also insist that the safety of our students and school employees be the first priority. With CDC recommendations and best practices as a foundation, Texas AFT therefore strongly urges districts to strictly follow these guidelines, and we will act on behalf of our members to see that they are met:

  • All school employees should be guaranteed regular pay, regardless of the status of closure or breaks in instruction. Districts should also seek roles for substitutes for paid work on a voluntary basis, such as remote instruction assistance, remote administrative work, or food distribution (with proper training).
  • No school employee should be forced into situations that put them at risk of contracting COVID-19 (as outlined by the CDC) when they have underlying health issues that make them prone to serious illness or death from the virus. Districts should agree to waive any requirements for work or meeting attendance in those instances without requiring the employee to use sick or personal leave.
  • Required meetings for others should be conducted with sound safeguards for social distancing and sanitation, and only if no other means (e.g. remote, online meetings) are available to accomplish goals for student instruction and other essential work.
  • Districts should only require work attendance on site at school facilities for employees who:

1) Are needed for the maintenance, cleaning, and sanitation of facilities. And those employees should practice social distancing and be trained in staying safe in their duties.

2) Are needed for on-site administrative work that is essential to the ongoing operations of the district, but with required social distancing and sanitation safeguards.

3) Must assure compliance with legal obligations for serving students and ensuring equitable instruction for all students–also with a strict adherence to social distancing and sanitation.

Again, those with health issues that make them vulnerable to serious risk should be excluded from these requirements.

Our school employees are committed to ensuring their students continue to learn, and for all of us to learn best practices from this pandemic. Many of our local unions currently are working with districts directly in providing assistance for remote learning and the safety of our members, and we would be happy to share this information with your district on an ongoing basis.

Zeph Capo, Texas AFT President

TEA ongoing guidance and resources from TASA

The Texas Education Agency’s main site for guidance to districts and school employees can be found here.  Additionally, our friends at the Texas Association of School Administrators have a comprehensive list of helpful links here.

TRS information on operations and health care

TRS will be doing remote counseling sessions for members instead through on-site visits. See the letter from executive director Brian Guthrie for an update.  TRS also has a page with more information on services, including free Teledoc services, a Nurses Medical line, and free prescription delivery.

Local district employees and volunteers doing heroic work to feed students

We’ve seen amazing stories of our local union members and co-workers keeping food distribution going to students who are relying on assistance for meals each day. Here’s a list of districts that we know are distributing food, along with locations and times, and we’ll be updating the list.