Jan. 8: Federal paid leave for quarantines expired, but you can work for it locally; Vaccine distribution resources; Helping our students understand this week’s assault on democracy


Local unions push for policies extending expired FFCRA leave for quarantined educators

Teacher measuring distances between two desks with mask on

Educators are afraid they will be forced to use their sick leave—or not get paid if their leave is exhausted—when being forced to quarantine with a COVID-19 infection or close contact with someone infected.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) passed by Congress last spring offered some protection for employees by requiring most employers to provide up to 80 hours paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave to use in those situations. However, the act—which funded the additional leave—expired Dec. 31, and Congress did not renew these provisions in the Consolidated Appropriations Act (the new stimulus package). The new law does provide some added leave provisions through March for private employers, but none for public employers like school districts.

Where does that leave you? And what if you face a situation with multiple required quarantines? Texas AFT believes districts need to step up and pass local policies that provide at least 80 hours (two regular weeks) of pay if employees are required to quarantine and can’t work remotely. If our country, state, and local districts are going to force school employees back on campuses—in many instances when it’s not safe to be there—then the public employer needs to be responsible for at least making sure they’re paid when quarantining.

Many districts have already passed local policies extending the 80 hours of leave, and our local unions in other districts like Cy-Fair have successfully pushed for the passage of policies. (Other policies in districts with our local unions are on board agendas for this month.)

But not all districts are taking this step for a local policy. That’s why we’re equipping you with a simple template policy and letter to send to your administration and school board members urging them to do the right thing. Please note that, yes, districts will have to find funds to pay for leave. However, although not guaranteed, there are indications that the new Biden administration may push through local funding for these provisions.

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Legislative session kicks off next week with Biennial Revenue Estimate

View of Empty Texas House chamber leather seats

The 87th session of the Texas Legislature kicks off Tuesday and runs through May 31. Remember, the Legislature passes laws that directly affect your work and compensation as educators, so we’ll need your help and will keep you informed of our work at the Capitol to ensure we knock down the bad ideas and promote the good ones.

Most of the legislative work will be procedural for several weeks, but one cornerstone for how the session will run—the Biennial Revenue Estimate—will be released by the state comptroller Monday. That estimate will inform how much money is available for the state’s two-year budget. The comptroller previously estimated that the state would be $4.6 billion in the hole with revenue significantly down because of the pandemic. However, federal aid from the stimulus package passed in December, along with possible future federal funding puts an unknown in the budget picture—one that could significantly add to the prospect of continuing our investment in public education and other essential services.

While our work at Texas AFT continues to center on safety in the pandemic, we urge you to read our Legislative Agenda to look at what we will be fighting for this session.

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Resources for educators in the second tier to find vaccine distributions

Vaccine vial and syringes
Texas AFT continues to fight for all educators to have priority access to the COVID-19 vaccine, as front-line workers. Last month, we asked Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, to prioritize school employees for vaccine distribution. Since then, Dr. Hellerstedt said, “All providers that have received COVID-19 vaccine must immediately vaccinate healthcare workers, Texans over the age of 65, and people with medical conditions that put them at a greater risk of severe disease or death from COVID-19. No vaccine should be kept in reserve.”

We want to provide resources for you to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine if you qualify. Many counties, like Cameron, Harris, Travis, Bexar, and Montgomery, are directing people to the state vaccine provider locations. Several other counties, like Dallas, El Paso, Tarrant, and Collin counties, are providing registration portals. Others have met their capacity for their first couple of rounds of vaccines, including Denton, Fort Bend, Williamson, Nueces, and Brazoria counties.

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Helping our students understand the events of Jan. 6

Share My Lesson Course Slides: Flier of Transition Pieces, White House photo

Texas AFT President Zeph Capo sent a letter to our members yesterday outlining his thoughts on the violence at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. “Yesterday was a disturbing day in the history of our country,” Capo wrote. “I am deeply saddened by the actions that ripped at the very seams of our democracy. It must be especially confusing to our students, who see images of mobs of people storming our nation’s Capitol in the middle of a pandemic that already has brought so much pain to our communities.”

Capo also included links to resources for helping teachers guide constructive conversations on the events this week. Share My Lesson has gathered a number of materials and lesson plans.

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Elected Consultation: The pathway to partnerships and power

Banner: Drawing of 4 teachers sitting at a table working

In December, the Houston Federation of Teachers (HFT) and Houston Educational Support Personnel (HESP) won elected consultation in Houston ISD. The results were overwhelming: HFT won with 93% of the vote and HESP won its election with 80% of the vote.

Coming amid the challenges of a global pandemic, this victory is even more significant, and it wouldn’t have happened without the collective power built by union members and leaders.

“Elected consultation is a direct vehicle to the administration and board for all employees to have a voice at the HISD table to address issues such as working conditions, salaries, and benefits,” said Wretha Thomas, HESP president. “The support that employees receive will be much stronger now that the union holds the official voice at the table.”

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Image of Randi Weingarten tweet‘Good riddance’:
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos resigns

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos resigned yesterday, citing the role of Trump’s rhetoric and its impact on the violence at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday as a reason. While Texas AFT has covered many of the destructive policy initiatives from the secretary at length, AFT President Randi Weingarten summed up our reaction to the news succinctly with: “Good riddance.”

Court of appeals halts TEA takeover of Houston ISD school board

On Dec. 30, the Texas Third District Court of Appeals kept in place an injunction against the Texas Education Agency removing the Houston ISD School Board members to replace them with an appointed board of managers. The district’s legal action leaves in place a halt to the removal until a full trial, unless the Texas Supreme Court overturns the ruling. TEA has sought the district takeover after the faulty use of state accountability rules for Houston ISD campuses. (You can read more about the issue on our website.)

“We are pleased the justices believe this type of public policy must be reviewed and scrutinized considering the high stakes of removing locally-elected School Board members,” said Zeph Capo, Texas American Federation of Teacher president. “Such grave decisions shouldn’t be made lightly and need to be considered from every possible angle to make sure the process is justified and fair.”

HFT President Jackie Anderson added: “We are in the midst of the greatest health pandemic in 100 years. Keeping staff and students safe should be our one priority at this time. Abbott, Morath, and the Houston ISD School Board should continue this game of thrones later. Right now, all parties need to focus on controlling this virus and getting vaccines to our educators.”

Good Bills of the Week: Custodian workloads and giving more power to the SBOE on charter-school expansion decisions

Michelle BeckleyHB 517 by Michelle Beckley (D- Carrollton) would require the board of trustees for each school district to adopt a policy regarding custodian workload. The policy adopted must include benchmarks for the amount of square feet assigned to school custodians during eight-hour shifts. The goal of this bill is to ensure custodians are working under clear, realistic, and safe expectations.

Mary GonzalezHB 944 by Mary Gonzales (D- El Paso) calls for the State Board of Education approval of expanding open-enrollment charter schools. The goal in this bill is to give more control to the SBOE, a democratically elected board, to approve charter expansions and notifications of charter applications. It would help provide a better check on the power held by the commissioner of education, who is appointed by the governor.

Bridges Institute offers session on suicide prevention

Flier with Hands presenting a yellow ribbon for suicide prevention

The Texas AFT Linda Bridges Institute will hold a webinar on suicide prevention next Wednesday, Jan. 13, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The program, “ASK About Suicide to Save A Life™,” is a best practice, gatekeeper training that teaches how to identify suicide risk factors, protective factors, warning signs, and appropriate referral strategies. Register now for this free virtual Zoom training.


Simplifying Money Matters Poster with Photo of Jean Chatzky

Virtual series looks at financial management for educators

Free, no-obligation financial advice is hard to come by. Thanks to our partnership with Horace Mann, we’re happy to share a speaker’s series that can help you navigate your financial and retirement planning.

Today Show financial editor Jean Chatzky starts off Horace Mann’s Virtual Speaker Series on Tuesday, Jan. 12, by taking the complicated world of money and explaining it in plain terms. She’ll tell you the things you can do in order to create the life you want, support the people you love, and stress a little less about the future. Space is limited; save your spot today!

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