January 29, 2022: Omicron survey results show educators don’t feel safe; Senator calls for STAAR cancellation; TRS covers at-home COVID-19 tests; Dallas union fights for more leave time
Publish Date: January 31, 2022 4:21 pm Author: Texas AFT
Survey shows scant few feel safe working during Omicron, with priorities listed for how to make it safer
Texas school employees spoke loud and clear in a recent survey on the Omicron surge.
Texas AFT found that most school employees surveyed do not feel safe working on campuses and that their school districts are not communicating specific plans for keeping employees and students safe from widespread infection. The respondents in the survey—conducted Jan. 11 through Jan. 24—also ranked different measures that would make them feel safer.
Highlights of the survey include:
88% of the 2,498 respondents said they did not feel safe returning to and working at campuses or had mixed feelings about safety. Just 12% said they feel safe.
68% said their school district had not communicated a plan for handling outbreaks during this surge, or respondents weren’t sure if the district had done so. Only 30% indicated they were aware of a plan.
When asked what would make them feel safe and supported at work, respondents’ top priorities were basic, effective mitigation strategies that districts have used in earlier stages of this pandemic:
Temporary return to virtual until case levels go down (69%)
Mask mandate in school buildings (66%)
N95s/KN95s provided by schools (65%)
Rapid tests provided by school (60%)
Required testing for all students and employees (56%)
In personal and candid responses to open-ended survey questions (examples below), school employees of all stripes said that the worries about safety and the stress of overwork exacerbated by this COVID-19 surge are taking a significant toll, with many sharing doubts that they could remain in their jobs.
“Our state leaders are playing a waiting game, preferring to bank on this recent surge waning rather than allowing districts to use protocols that work, like masks and periods of remote learning,” said Texas AFT President Zeph Capo. “The problem with that is while they twiddle their thumbs, our educators are stressed to the point of leaving their profession, and our kids are suffering through triage instruction because of severe staff and substitute shortages. Drastic measures like doubling a class size or shuttling massive groups of kids to the gym put students and staff at greater risk of infection, and they cause lasting harm to our students’ academic success.”
This month, TRS health plans began covering over-the-counter, at-home COVID-19 tests in response to federal requirements for most insurance plans to cover a limited number of tests for plan participants. TRS will cover up to eight COVID-19 tests every 30 days for TRS-ActiveCare and TRS-Care Standard plan participants and their dependents. Participants must submit a claims form and their receipts to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas. Reimbursement might take 30 to 45 days.
This federal requirement does not extend coverage to Medicare plans, so TRS-Care Medicare Advantage is not reimbursing members for at-home COVID-19 tests. TRS-Care Medicare Advantage will continue to cover COVID-19 tests ordered by a physician and conducted at a physician’s office or lab.
State senator urges cancellation of STAAR test
State Sen. Senator José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) has been a long-standing critic of the STAAR test, calling it an “unnecessary and poorly designed means of assessment.”
Menéndez also filed legislation—which did not pass—to cancel STAAR last year. Texas AFT also has urged cancellation for an obvious reason: trying to get an accurate assessment while our schools are in chaos with staff shortages and thousands of COVID-19 infections is impossible.
When Menéndez surveyed some 13,000 Texans last spring, he found that 97% of respondents favored canceling STAAR. Here’s his take on this year:
“In January of last year, the state signed a four-year agreement with two companies to administer the STAAR test totaling $388 million dollars. Using this money to administer a high-stakes test at a time where we are experiencing a teacher shortage, a substitute teacher shortage, mental health challenges for both teachers and students and burnout among everyone in our education system is unacceptable. This money needs to be used to provide our schools and teachers the resources they need to help our children grow academically, not a test. As if the stress of taking the assessment were not difficult enough, placing the weight of accountability on the shoulders of eight-and-nine-year-old children, coupled with the stress of being concerned about whether they will be promoted to the next grade level during a global pandemic is unfathomable. It would be irresponsible to place our students and education communities in harm’s way during this pandemic using a system that has repeatedly only set our children and schools up for failure.”
Election 2022: The opportunity to elect public education champions begins next week
The March 1 Primary Election begins our fight to elect champions of Texas public schools and defend our institutions for our educators and kids. Monday, January 31, is the deadline to register to vote for the primary.
If you have moved to a new county, you must complete a new registration. If you moved to a different address in the same county, you can update your record here. We strongly recommend that you vote early, which begins Monday, February 14, and ends on Friday, February 25.
If you are eligible to vote by mail, the deadline to send in your application for a ballot by mail is Friday, February 18. To ensure that the state does not reject your application for a mail-in ballot, you must specify which party’s ballot you need in the primary as well as the runoff (two separate boxes). Also, make sure you add your driver’s license/state ID number AND the last four digits of your Social Security number to this application. Your contact information—including your phone number and email address—must be up to date and accurate on the application. If your ballot application is rejected, state election authorities can call you or email you. If the state can’t contact you regarding inconsistent or missing information on your application, then the application can be rejected. Finally, you, the voter, must complete the mail ballot application and mail it in. You cannot request a ballot for someone else, even if they are legally disabled. For assistance, call this voter protection hotline:844-TX-VOTES (844-898-6837).
Texas AFT has an exciting list of public education defenders on its endorsements page! We will be updating the list of endorsed candidates, so be sure and check back before voting. You can find who represents you currently here.
We urge you to stay engaged in this year’s elections by volunteering for our endorsed candidates—making phone calls on behalf of candidates, knocking on doors in your community, registering citizens to vote, and even recruiting more members of your community to volunteer. You can fill out our form for Activists in Action here.
Dallas union urges district to reinstate COVID-19 leave days Local actions you can take to be safe and feel respected
Alliance-AFT leaders and members held a press conference Tuesday urging Dallas ISD to reinstate a full 10 days of COVID-19 sick leave after the district reduced the paid time off to five days on January 7.
The district changed its policy after CDC guidelines changed in December and stated that employees could return to work five days after a coronavirus infection if they didn’t have a fever or significant symptoms.
Hobie Hukill, a recently-retired teacher and union leader, said the problem with the change is that it puts pressure on employees to return to work, even when they are still capable of spreading the virus. “If they are still symptomatic and still shedding virus, they must use their own sick days or return to work, putting themselves, other teachers, and their students at risk,” Hukill said. “At a time when many teachers are burning out and leaving, the least Dallas ISD could do is to stop nickel-and-diming teachers.”
Alliance-AFT President Rena Honea said many teachers have already exhausted paid leave, so they face losing pay without the buffer of a full 10 days.
Take action locally to ensure you get the support
you need during the Omicron surge
Members who took our survey on the Omicron surge told us they needed help. While we are working at the state level to get leaders to do their job, we also know that many solutions can only be enacted at the local level. Texas AFT has put together a resource for local unions and members waging COVID-19 safety fights and campaigns for fair pay and increased wages in your districts during this Omicron surge.
Ten days of COVID-19-related paid sick leave has been implemented by many districts in Texas, and it’s one of the policy changes advocated by Texas AFT. Others include pay for teachers covering classes or taking on additional students, pay for work on Reading Academies, one-time stipends, access to COVID-19 testing, and many more ways districts need to show you respect.
Join us for a virtual town hall with two Texas AFT-endorsed candidates. Ruben Cortez and Thomas Garcia have both served the valley for many years and we are proud to support their campaigns—Cortez for state representative in HD 37 and Garcia for State Board of Education District 2. We know they will fight for our public schools, students, and staff!
Register with us to tune in and hear from them about the issues our public schools are challenged with each day and how they plan to work with us to improve our schools. Bring your questions and please invite your friends.
Ready to step it up and hone your leadership skills?
Are you ready to take a more active role in your union and make a difference for your schools and profession?
We invite you to attend one of our Regional Leadership Conferences sponsored by Texas AFT’s Bridges Institute. The Bridges Institute is a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to providing professional learning opportunities for Texas public school employees. Four conferences will be held throughout the state:
McAllen, February 19
Dallas, February 26
San Antonio, March 5
Houston, April 2
Courses will be offered for members to help them build union power at their worksite. The sessions focus on strategies and tips for organizing—foundational pieces for moving potential members to members, members to activists, and activists to leaders. See the full course lineup and register here.
Corpus Christi conference helps prepare future educators
As part of AFT’s “Growing and Nurturing Our Future Educators” program, Corpus Christi AFT hosted a free conference on January 22 to help prepare education students for their careers ahead. The program, held at Texas A&M Corpus Christi, focused on mental health, first aid, and classroom management strategies.