You can find all news, updates and resources addressing COVID-19 here on our website.
New TEA guidance allows for extending remote-only instruction up to eight weeks in total
While we have a long way to go, the Texas Education Agency is finally beginning to listen to teachers. Probably the most significant provision of today’s updated guidance extends the transition period to four weeks, where districts may limit on-campus instruction. The guidance also allows school boards to vote to extend this transition period for another four weeks.
This effectively allows schools to operate remotely for up to eight weeks so long as the district can ensure all its students have access to the internet and/or devices. Otherwise, TEA states parents are entitled to on-campus instruction, even during this time period. Note that this provision requires the district to affirmatively make this decision, and TEA Commissioner Mike Morath continues to encourage districts to include as many kids on campus as possible.
Texas AFT President Zeph Capo said, “A tidal wave of teachers opposing dangerous reopening plans has knocked back the reckless push to open our schools. Today’s announcement giving additional time to phase-in with remote-only instruction is a good move in recognizing the legitimate fears of teachers and parents. But it’s not a question of how many weeks until on-site instruction is the norm. It’s making safety, and not politics or the economy, the top priority for our students and teachers in every decision.”
What is glaringly missing from this guidance is how to address the prevalence of COVID in the community. Based on current knowledge of COVID-19 and its spread, we need to follow the advice of health professionals and wait to open schools until we see a demonstrated decline in new cases and hospitalizations for at least 14 days. This needs to be the first step before thinking about anything else.
Runoff Election results recap
Educators in Texas were heavily involved in the July 14 runoff elections (moved from May to July due to the coronavirus). In the U.S. Senate race, educators from across Texas supported State Senator Royce West, who came up just short in his bid. We look forward to Senator West’s continued public education leadership in the Texas Senate.
In a monumental upset, Houston educators played a key role in Penny Morales Shaw’s campaign to defeat an out-of-state charter school organization-backed incumbent. Yet, in a setback for teachers, the LGBT community, and reproductive rights advocates, former teacher Sara Stapleton Barrera lost to a long-time school privatization supporter that outspent her 10 to 1.
Public school champion Rep. Eddie Rodriguez made a valiant effort in the special election for Senate District 14 in Austin, but was unable to defeat former Travis County judge Sarah Eckhardt, who came in just under the 50% threshold needed to avoid a runoff with him. Turnout among Texas AFT members was high, which demonstrates their enthusiasm to play a leading role in shaping their communities in November.
TRS Board hears on status of pension fund amid pandemic, but details on retiree health plans still unknown
The TRS fund is in good health, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and markets are showing signs of a faster rebound than in the last U.S. recession, the chief investment officer for TRS told the Board of Trustees this week.
There was hope that TRS would discuss details for the new retiree health plans. Unfortunately, little new information was made available during the board meeting. Plan guides should be available starting in September and TRS will begin hosting webinars for retirees on their plan options in October. Active and retired members should also be aware of changes in the plans that directly respond to COVID-19:
TRS-Care Medicare Advantage
• No medical co-pays for all diagnostic testing
• No cost sharing for: Telemedicine and COVID-19 related treatment
• Specialized support and telemedicine assistance
• Early refills for maintenance medications
TRS-Care Standard & TRS-ActiveCare
• No member cost sharing for: Telemedicine; all COVID-19 related diagnostic testing; COVID-19 related inpatient treatment
• Care packages those who contract COVID-19
• Early refills for maintenance medications
• Access to mental health and nurse hotlines and materials
The Costs of education during a pandemic: Why we need the HEROES Act
On July 10, the Legislative Study Group Caucus put out a report on the costs of education during a pandemic. They have asked the public to contact their congressional representative and senator and ask them to support the $90 billion educational funding provision in the HEROES Act. Some $58 billion of that money would cover K-12 education needs, and Texas would get a $6 billion infusion of funds earmarked for our schools and higher education institutions—in addition to funding to stabilize the state budget for the next two years.
Texas AFL-CIO is organizing for better unemployment benefits
With unemployment rates at record highs across the country and in Texas due to the coronavirus pandemic, many Texas workers are afraid of losing their income. Losing your job is hard enough, but in Texas the unemployment compensation system is a nightmare in and of itself. The system is too often slow, outdated, and underfunded. State employees trying to provide services to unemployed workers are forced to do more with less. This is simply unacceptable. Texas must do more for its citizens.
The Texas AFL-CIO has partnered with Every Texan to formulate a Ten-point plan to modernize the unemployment system based on feedback they have received from unemployed workers across the state. The plan includes thoughtful steps to reorganize the system, including measures that would increase staffing, remove arbitrary bureaucratic barriers, and streamline applying for direct emergency relief. You can sign on to their petition by clicking here.
The Texas AFL-CIO is also offering resources to help unemployed workers navigate the complicated compensation system. You can access those resources by clicking here.
Thank you to our public education champions for stepping up when we need you most
It is no secret that public educators and public education itself are currently under attack in Texas. Our own governor has been making plans for the reopening of Texas public schools with little to no regard for the safety and wellbeing of teachers. Privatization forces have long been waging a war against public education for years now. At times like these, when public educators feel attacked from all sides, we are incredibly thankful to our leaders who choose to stand with educators across Texas.
There are many public education champions in the Texas Legislature who are fighting for us, and many have come to our aid in big ways just these past couple weeks. One such advocate is Representative Donna Howard, who recently released a public statement asking Gov. Abbott to prioritize teacher and student safety and provide schools with adequate funding to safely reopen, because she sees that the current plan clearly is not adequate. Likewise, fellow central Texas Rep. Erin Zwiener sent an open letter to Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath telling him to both pause plans to reopen schools until it is safe to reopen.
Representative Terry Canales has been a ferocious defender of public educators, both in his own open letter to Governor Abbott expressing his concern over school’s reopening as well as in his social media presence on Twitter, continuingly calling out the Governor and TEA for their reckless actions and elevating the voices of public educators.
One of our allies on the other side of the capitol, Senator José Menendez, has been an exceptional advocate for teacher safety. His office was able to organize a survey of public educators and public education stakeholders showing community concern about Gov. Abbott’s hazardous and shortsighted plan to reopen schools. The results of the survey can be seen by clicking here.
Now more than ever, the work of our friends in the Texas legislature is appreciated. We thank you for your advocacy.
Our hit Wellness Wednesdays with free virtual sessions are set for the next two Wednesdays in July. We’ll be featuring Yoga instruction. Register here…
Texas American Federation of Teachers represents more than 65,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, support personnel, and higher-education employees across the state. Texas AFT is affiliated with the 1.6-million-member American Federation of Teachers.