August 9, 2021: New special session kicks off with same-old bad bills; Dallas ISD to require masks, despite governor’s order

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New special Session starts with repeated effort to pass bills on voter suppression, ‘critical race theory’

The Legislature gaveled in Saturday for a new 30-day special session, one which features theHouse Speaker Dade Phelan brings down the gavel in the House Chamber same contentious legislation as the last one, with a few additions of new issues that can be addressed. Notably, there’s a broad category of:

EDUCATION: Legislation providing strategies for public-school education in prekindergarten through twelfth grade during the COVID-19 pandemic, which ensures:

  • students receive a high-quality education and progress in their learning;
  • in-person learning is available for any student whose parent wants it;
  • the wearing of face coverings is not mandatory; and
  • COVID-19 vaccinations are always voluntary.

Returning issues include bills for voter suppression, transgender youth sports, banning “critical race theory” instruction, and a 13th check for retirees.

With at least two dozen Democratic House members intending to stay in Washington, a sporadic return of others, and several missing Republicans, the House was again left without a quorum and gaveled out until today.

The Senate, however, is in full swing with all 31 members and immediately passed new rules for the session that will stymie public participation. The Senate will not have to hold hearings on bills that are of the “same subject” as previous legislation—which Democrats argued is not the same as a longstanding practice of no hearings on identical or similar bills coming from the House. Nixed in the new rules are the requirement to post a hearing at least 24 hours before it is held and the ability for Senators to “tag” a bill, which then requires at least 48 hours notice. The result is very little opportunity for the public to testify on bills.

On Friday, the Legislative Budget Board did direct funding to pay legislative staffers and other operational needs for the session after Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed the legislative budget in June.

This morning, the Senate passed a bill to provide a 13th check to TRS retirees. The Senate State Affairs Committee started a hearing on the voter suppression bill this morning, and a hearing on “critical race” theory legislation will be held tomorrow at 10 a.m. The Senate Education Committee will hear a bill on virtual education tomorrow at 10 a.m.

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Concerns continue over what is ‘safe’ with return to school approaching

Dallas ISD to require masks, despite governor’s order (Houston ISD to follow?)

This past week was a whirlwind of activity around pandemic safety issues as reality set in that the start of school is just around the corner for most districts. At the forefront were three issues: 1) Concern from parents and school employees about returning to classrooms with the Delta variant of COVID-19 causing a huge spike in infections; 2) The realization that those under 12 still can’t be vaccinated; and 3) Questions about the authority to require masks in schools.

Graphic of a woman wearing a mask and holding her arm. Linked to AFT Covi-19 Myth Busting DocumentTexas AFT continued our Back to School for All campaign, acknowledging that our members want to be back on campus, while also recognizing their safety concerns and urging local decision-making on the use of masks. The campaign also called for federal funding to improve school air quality and safety. (A significant majority of members we surveyed back local decision-making on masks.) However, Gov. Greg Abbott doubled down on prohibiting mask mandates in schools with his newest executive order on July 29, and he also called for legislation addressing such a prohibition for the new special session that started Saturday. Texas AFT is asking school employees to send an online letter to Abbott and the Texas Education Agency demanding local control on mask use.

At least one district is adamant about local control, regardless of the governor’s order. Dallas ISD announced that it will require masks for all students, staff and visitors to schools. Houston ISD Superintendent Millard House II also announced he would seek School Board approval this week for requiring masks in school.

Meanwhile districts are releasing updated safety plans, and we urge you to check yourYoung girl with pig tails wearing a mask. Text: Let our School District Choose. Restore Local Control for Covid-19 safety. Links to letter campaign to governor district’s website to view the protocols for campuses and employees. Many district plans are not requiring asymptomatic vaccinated students or employees to quarantine if they come in close contact with an infected individual. Many also are requiring school employees to use sick leave if they are required to quarantine for any reason, although we noted a small number that are providing emergency, paid sick leave. (The federal funding that backed paid sick leave for quarantining school employees expired for public schools on December 31.)

New guidance from TEA released Thursday removed requirements for contract tracing for students and staff testing positive, and also requirements for case notifications sent to parents. Texas AFT President Zeph Capo released a statement Friday calling the guidance inadequate.

“TEA is wrong in getting rid of “contact tracing” for COVID-19-positive students and staff,” Capo said. “If we are thorough in reporting cases of lice, why can’t we do the same for COVID-19? At the very least, we need to continue rigorous assessments of how to respond to exposure to the virus, and that won’t happen if parents, students, and staff are left in the dark on transmissions on their campuses. We urge districts to also continue reporting positive cases and a breakdown by campus directly to all parents and posting them online.”

TEA also announced that it would fund remote instruction only for students who are quarantining or recovering from COVID-19 up to 20 days, with more days possible with a TEA waiver. Some districts have, however, committed to providing remote options for select populations of students, and federal pandemic funding to districts is available for that purpose.

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AFT mourns the loss of Richard Trumka

Richard Trumka at a microphone below an American flag. Text: Richard L. Trumka, 1949 to 2021AFT members nationwide reacted with shock and sadness to the sudden death Thursday of longtime AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. AFT is affiliated with AFL-CIO.

AFT President Randi Weingarten released a statement: “Rich Trumka was our brother in the truest sense of the word. His sudden passing is a tremendous loss for the entire labor movement, and for working families across the country. From his first mining job in the late ’60s, to joining the staff of the United Mine Workers of America and eventually becoming president, to his fierce and courageous leadership of the AFL-CIO for more than a decade, Rich fought his entire life for dignity and respect for American workers.“

Share My Lesson partners with 9/11 Museum on new curriculum

Text on black: 9-11 Memorial and Museum: EducationAs we move closer to the milestone 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the education department at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum is offering resources that help young people better understand this historically significant event. To that end, registration is now open for Anniversary in the Schools, a free, on-demand commemorative program offered on Friday, September. 10, and Saturday, September. 11, 2021.

The program includes a 30-minute film showcasing a diverse slate of speakers sharing their personal 9/11 stories and an interactive live chat with museum staff answering student questions in real time. This year’s theme is twofold; the program will highlight the importance of commemorating the 20th anniversary for a generation with no memory of the attacks, and also how the lessons of 9/11 can help us with the challenges we face today.

This year’s program features six speakers, including first responders, survivors and family members, along with the voices of several speakers who were young people on 9/11.



PHoto: Towering Statue of Liberty Text: Together we rise citizenship ClinichTexas AFT unions in the Valley will hold citizenship clinics in August

Our local unions in the Rio Grande Valley will be co-hosting a citizenship clinic in McAllen on August 28. The “Together We Rise” clinic will help guide permanent residents to full citizenship. Applicants must attend an informational forum before the clinic. Find all the details here.

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