October 2, 2020: 1000 Austin teachers pledge to continue remote work; Act now with our School Nurse Campaign; Corpus Christi Town Hall with Randi Weingarten Thursday

You can find all news, updates and resources addressing COVID-19 here on our website.


1,000 teachers pledge to continue working remotely in Austin Monday, but negotiations are underway with the district to resolve reopening issues

Photos from Car Caravan. Line of Cars. People posting comments on windowsSee the Austin American-Statesman’s photo gallery of the Education Austin car caravan

When Monday morning arrives in Austin ISD, it’s uncertain what the scene will look like on more than 120 campuses across the city as hundreds of teachers and other school employees have rallied around a pledge to not return to campuses because of COVID-19 and instead continue work remotely. The district is scheduled to go back to face-to-face instruction Monday. Teachers who refuse to return have indicated they will continue with virtual instruction.

Our local union for the district—Education Austin—has tallied the numbers for the protest and also is having ongoing meetings with the superintendent to try and resolve significant issues related to a return to campus.

About 100 district employees gathered in an Education Austin online meeting Thursday night to ask questions and relate their stories about why they are objecting to a return. Key concerns include sporadic and inconsistent communications with employees about safety protocols (or lack of them) along with the district rejecting a large number of accommodations requests under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employees who have spouses and family members with significant health risks are being denied the ability to work remotely. About half of the 925 requests for ADA accommodations have been denied for a total workforce of more than 5,500.

“The teacher code of ethics says that teachers will not knowingly lead their students into a harmful environment where they could be injured or their health could be endangered,” said Education Austin President Ken Zarifis. “We believe the district requiring us to come back, requiring kids in the classroom, forces us to break our teacher code of ethics, and we are against that. We know that this action, come Monday, is a very bold action. It is not a strike, as people are suggesting. We are not refusing to work. We are not stopping work. We are simply committing to working from home to keep ourselves and our students and their families safe.”

Education Austin held a car caravan protest last Saturday with hundreds of its members driving together to the district administration building, where they taped their questions and concerns on the windows. Socorro AFT and Corpus Christi AFT also are planning car caravans tomorrow, and several of our other unions have held them in the past.

El Paso AFT, which has been monitoring COVID-19 statistics closely and organizing members around safety issues, also was successful in getting in-person instruction delayed until October 19 (with teachers being phased in on October 7).

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Tell the governor we need notification if nurses aren’t employed on campuses

Gov. Abbott: Is there a nurse in the house?

Anyone who’s worked in one of our public schools knows that school nurses are unsung heroes. In this time of pandemic, they’re being asked to do more than ever..

In our current crisis, though, schools aren’t required to tell parents whether they have a full-time nurse on duty. Why? Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed a 2017 bill that would have required parental notification. At the time, he called it a “needless regulatory mandate.”

That wasn’t true then, and it’s incredibly dangerous now. In the middle of a pandemic and a chaotic patchwork of school reopenings, parents are deciding whether to send their children back to school — without knowing if that school has a full-time nurse.

The presence of a nurse on campus can be a matter of life-and-death. Send our e-letter to Gov. Abbott and tell him it’s time to fix his past mistake?

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TEA guarantees funding despite enrollment losses, but then announces a massive expansion for charter schools

Mike Morath with ghosted charter schoolThis week, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced a six-week extension of current minimum funding established for the pandemic. This means that despite the enrollment decline in Texas public schools this year due to the pandemic, a funding guarantee that is based on prior year attendance is in place for the entire first half of the school year.

This extension ensures funding through the first 18 weeks of the first semester of the school year, regardless of changes to enrollment or attendance rates due to COVID-19. Districts must also demonstrate an effort to allow for on-campus attendance. TEA will address funding adjustments for the second semester based upon information and data gathered between now and January 2021. Districts that use the additional extension will be required to identify students who are missing from enrollment and determine their location.

Also announced this week was the TEA approval of amendments allowing IDEA charter schools to expand with 12 new campuses and up to 15,000 new students. In a statement to the media, Texas AFT spokesperson Rob D’Amico said:

“While our true public schools face a pandemic and a likely fight against budget cuts next year, our governor-appointed education commissioner is opening the floodgates to a charter-school chain that has been embroiled in scandal the past two years. The IDEA executives responded to the backlash against their multi-million-dollar jets, luxury boxes, and extravagant parachute payments to their top management by asking our taxpayers to foot a bill for their massive expansion—an additional annual cost to the state of at least $16 million a year. If anything, IDEA should be stunted for its outrageous management, left to regroup, and get its act together.

“But instead, the commissioner has rewarded the controversial charter handsomely. Over the last four years alone, the commissioner has approved 62 new IDEA campuses through the amendment process—more than any other charter chain in Texas.”

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Will straight-ticket voting be on the ballot?

(And pssst…voter registration deadline is Monday, October 5)

 

Vote buttonA federal court this week said not so fast on returning straight-ticket voting to the Texas ballot for the November General Election.

The Republican-led Legislature had outlawed straight-ticket voting in 2017. But a lower court judge last week signaled the go ahead for straight-ticket ballots after Democratic Party officials argued it would speed up voting, decrease long wait times, and thus, make it safer for everyone while casting a ballot during the pandemic. Now, under an emergency filing by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered a stay on the ruling—meaning that we still could have legal wrangling over the fate of straight-ticket voting in the coming days.

Lawmakers who nixed the straight-ticket in 2017 cited the lack of informed voting as a reason to end straight-ticket voting. The November 3 election was supposed to be the first in decades not to offer this practice. Given that early voting in Texas starts October 13, it is unclear whether or not voters will have straight-ticket voting on the ballot for the upcoming election.

The last day to register to vote is October 5. If you have moved or changed your name, you need to update your registration. Please be sure to confirm your registration by checking with your local election office. Here are all the links and steps you need. Early voting begins October 13 and ends on October 30. We’ll be sure to remind you to vote early. If you live in Harris County, HFT members are holding a drive-through voter registration event this weekend.

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Join us Thursday evening for a special Town Hall on elections and reopenings

 

Town hall poster with panelists

Tune into Corpus Christi AFT’s Facebook page on Thursday, October 8, for a lively discussion on school reopenings and the upcoming election. We’ll look at the situation from the national, state, and local levels—with a spotlight on the Town Hall host’s home in Corpus Christi.

Special guest AFT President Randi Weingarten will join Texas AFT President Zeph Capo and Corpus Christi AFT President Dr. Nancy Vera.

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House passes trimmed down HEROES Act, but pandemic aid bill faces a wall in the U.S. Senate

Mitch McConnell and need to pass HEROES ActMonths after U.S. Senate Republicans declared the original Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act or HEROES Act “dead on arrival” and “unrealistic” as soon as it was sent to the Senate from the House, the House Democrats have responded by narrowly passing a revised version of the HEROES Act.

The original HEROES Act would have provided $3.4 trillion in stimulus funds. The updated version cut proposed spending by $1.2 trillion dollars. The updated plan would send one-time $1,200 stimulus payments to taxpayers in a way similar to the CARES Act and would also restore the weekly additional $600 unemployment payments that have expired. The new plan also would provide a tremendous boon to public education funding nationwide as the legislation allotted $225 billion to be spent on education.

This bill would provide desperately needed resources to individuals and communities across the country. Despite the urgent need for the stimulus package and the huge compromises Democrats made compared to their first bill, Senate Republicans are still not likely to pass this new, watered-down version of the HEROES Act. Senate Republicans have made it clear that they care more about confirming a partisan Supreme Court Justice than they do about the struggles of working families.

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In Brief

Do you have the Power? Get your fill this weekend at our Power Social!

The Educator Power Social scheduled for tomorrow, October 3 at 1 p.m. virtually, is a Event Fliercelebration of our ongoing commitment to building the collective power of our teachers and school support staff.

We’ll engage in social icebreakers and guided discussions, and we’ll commit to a plan of action for the 2020 election. The weekend of Educator Power is an affirmation of our value, power, and possibility.

Join us for some good music and meaningful conversation! This is an opportunity to laugh, build community, and make a plan for action as we prepare to participate in the most important election of our time. Please register ahead of time to get event details here.

People sharing bubble ideasFree webinar for PD credit on lifting parent and educator voices during times of crisis

Several members across Texas participated in a discussion with the PTA national organization and AFT on the topic of: “Lifting up Parent and Educator Voices in Your Community During Times of Crisis.”

Share My Lesson has a free webinar on the findings, along with an accompanying guide. (Includes PD credit)

Protect Students GraphicOn Wednesdays, we wear red!

Turn your social media channels red each Wednesday in support of educators and students. Our goal is to show our numbers across platforms and to push local leaders and elected officials to show their support too.

While we’ve seen some districts and counties delay start dates for in-person instruction and move closer to our common sense plan for safe school reopenings, there’s still work to do this back-to-school season.


 
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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.

 


 

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