Wretha Thomas, HESP president, addresses the media at a news conference Monday
AFT President Randi Weingarten also will hold a Tele Town Hall this Saturday at 1 p.m. CST to discuss how AFT is responding to the virus. Register now and you’ll automatically get a phone call to tune you into the conference call. (Registration deadline is today–Friday, March 13–at 3 p.m. CST.
Texas AFT is urging state officials to allocate funding to school districts to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. In a letter to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath and Department of State Health Services Dr. John William Hellerstedt, Texas AFT President Zeph Capo said state agencies need to act now in dispersing funds to schools.
“We’ve heard from our members that many campuses aren’t even equipped with the basics–like working soap dispensers, or the extra manpower needed for more frequent and intensive disinfection,” Capo said. “With state emergency funding mechanisms in place, and federal money on the way, it’s time to start getting this assistance to districts immediately.”
The letter notes: “Section 418.004 of the Texas Government Code includes “epidemic” in the definition for ‘disaster,’ which triggers the availability of funds from various sources. Please consider utilizing any available funding, including state discretionary funds, federal Homeland Security disaster funds, or your emergency-related transfer authority in Article IX of the General Appropriations Act to help schools address the emerging Coronavirus Outbreak.”
Texas AFT local unions across the state are also working with districts to ensure every measure possible is being taken to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus should an outbreak occur and they are urging their districts to make their plans for addressing the virus known to school employees.
On Monday, the Houston-area local Texas AFT unions held a press conference calling for Houston ISD and other districts to make their plans clearer in the case of an outbreak, while also commending the Houston officials for implementing more intensive cleaning. “We’re asking the district, for example, to develop a comprehensive plan on how to handle leave for their employees in the case that they are unable to go to work,” said Houston Federation of Teachers Vice President Andy Dewey.
And our affiliate—Texas AFL-CIO–held a press conference today outlining specific recommendations for protecting Texas workers from the virus and economic impacts.
AFT members have been provided with resources–developed by medical experts at AFT–to help school employees stay informed on the virus and ways to stop it–found at AFT.org/coronavirus.
Text of the Letters:
The Texas American Federation of Teachers represents 65,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, janitors, nurses, and cafeteria workers who all work face-to-face with students every day. Our members are already on the frontline of the emerging Coronavirus outbreak, and they have serious concerns about insufficient resources available for them and their schools to appropriately respond to this serious threat to our children’s health. We must act now to prevent a crisis.
Our members have informed us about inadequate supplies of soap, paper towels, and basic cleaning supplies. Too many schools do not have filled soap dispensers, which is unacceptable at any time, but especially during a serious viral outbreak. When children’s health is at risk, we must immediately address any insufficiencies and take proactive measures to ensure all of our schools are prepared before we see any serious signs of the virus in our schools.
We ask that you provide immediate funding to public schools statewide to ensure they receive the necessary supplies to address this ongoing outbreak and to prevent further spread of the virus. Priority should be placed on those districts with the lowest per-pupil funding available.
Section 418.004 of the Texas Government Code includes “epidemic” in the definition for “disaster,” which triggers the availability of funds from various sources. Please consider utilizing any available funding, including state discretionary funds, federal Homeland Security disaster funds, or your emergency-related transfer authority in Article IX of the General Appropriations Act to help schools address the emerging Coronavirus outbreak. U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) announced last week that Congress’ emergency funding legislation to address the Coronavirus outbreak will include $950 million available for reimbursements for state and local governments. It is critical that our public schools receive priority for such funding.
Additionally, we wanted to share some guidance and resources for public schools and institutions of higher education provided by our national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers, at this link: https://www.aft.org/coronavirus
As you know, medically accurate information is a necessary aspect of fighting an outbreak, and we believe this information is helpful statewide.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this critical matter.
President, Texas American Federation of Teachers