Wrap up School Safety Week with actions pointed to the governor

National School Safety Week wraps up today, and we’re encouraging members to use social media and our petition to send a message to state officials that we need better leadership on school safety and the pandemic. Here’s a list of all actions you can take, but for our Tweeters, we’d like your help to send a tweet storm to Gov. Abbott. (See here for sample tweets and graphics.)

Texas AFT President Zeph Capo had some specific requests in an open letter to Gov. Greg Abbott and Education Commissioner Mike Morath this week. After noting numerous comments from our members on unsafe working conditions, Capo asked:

  • What authority have schools and districts been given to enforce the governor’s order? 
  • How is TEA logging and addressing received complaints about non-compliance or safety concerns? 
  • What commitment will you both make to use your pulpits to support masking in public schools?
  • Are you willing to stand with us and develop a joint PSA on the importance of wearing a mask in school?  

Those questions seemed particularly pertinent with news out of Peaster ISD in north Texas where district officials refuse to enforce any mask requirements or report any COVID-19 cases—despite masks being required by the governor’s orders and reporting required by the Texas Education Agency. As reported by WFAA TV, the superintendent’s view is that reporting increases undue fear. “We will not be a platform to drive the fear narrative around any current illness, including COVID…” said Superintendent Lance Johnson. The district’s website does not even mention COVID-19, and its Facebook page displays numerous posts of large events with no one wearing a mask.

Peaster, a small community north of Weatherford, has just one reported case of the virus. However, its county has had 2,350 cases and 45 deaths—the majority in Weatherford just 10 miles to the south—and parents believe many cases have not been reported. A district staff person was hospitalized, but it’s uncertain whether it was related to campus work. In-person instruction may not be a big concern, but the flippant attitude toward prevention, transparency, and state law, will do nothing to help the district maintain low numbers that justify students on campus.

Even more troublesome was TEA’s response to a complaint from parents in the district. TEA told the news station: “The Texas Education Agency has reviewed the complaint regarding Peaster ISD; at this time, the Agency plans to take no further action on this complaint as many of the concerns noted in it appear to be local in nature.”

TEA’s statement added, “School districts and local health officials are in the best position to make decisions specific to their respective communities.” That position doesn’t seem to apply, though, to Education Commissioner Mike Morath’s push to force on-campus instruction in communities where local health officials deem it unsafe.