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 campus because of COVID-19. The district is scheduled to go back to face-to-face instruction Monday. Teachers who are not returning are committed to continuing 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.
“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.”
“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 a phase-in of students between October 26 and November 2 (with teachers being phased in starting October 21).