FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 27, 2022
CONTACT: Rob D’Amico, 512-627-1343, email@example.com
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%)
“We need N95 or K95 masks for all staff. I’m paying almost $100 for my own, which is unacceptable.” — Special Education Teacher
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.”
Capo said Texas AFT has developed a list of local policy recommendations informed by these results. Union members will be making demands of their districts to adopt these measures, he said. (You can review the items here.)
At the state level, Capo said the union will keep pushing Gov. Greg Abbott and Education Commissioner Mike Morath to allow mask mandates, require districts to conduct rigorous COVID-19 testing, and encourage temporary state-funded remote learning in response to spiking case levels. But he said we need more than safety protocols to confront this crisis.
“We need a massive show of respect for the school employees who have done everything they could to teach and support our children during a time of crisis,” Capo said. “As this pandemic continues, our union is doing what our state leaders refuse to do: listening to these employees. And you can expect in the coming weeks that we will have much more to say on the topic of supporting, respecting, and retaining our hard-working teachers and school staff.”
Survey comments included:
This is the reason for me retiring. I have never been sick as much as I have this year. It is ridiculous.
I have to watch students of other teachers DURING my classes, which puts more bodies in a confined space and makes it easier to transmit the virus with a more crowded classroom. I’m also asked to watch students during my planning period, which takes away from my planning time. I thought districts couldn’t take away our planning time?
Everyone is working very hard and is physically and mentally exhausted. As teachers we are scared, not feeling safe or protected at school. Even though millions of dollars were sent, we don’t see that reflected in our classrooms. No air purifiers were given to each classroom as promised at the beginning of the school year. I honestly feel this is my last school year being a teacher.
We need N95 or K95 masks for all staff. I’m paying almost $100 for my own, which is unacceptable.
— Special Education Teacher
I’m so, so tired and the stress in the workplace is out of control. The district and the state are piling on expectations as if everything is back to normal and NONE of this is normal. Teachers are hanging on by a thread.
Many teachers are absent and there are no substitutes available. The students are being split into other teachers’ classes which is overwhelming and unsafe for everyone.
I can’t do my job because I am being pulled to cover a class, because we’re short on subs and so many teachers are out with Covid-19.
Last year’s mask mandate kept students in school. They were not happy about wearing masks, but I had the majority of my students each day. This year our school is mask optional, and I’ve averaged 20 absent students per day this week of school and have about 20 in current quarantine based on exposure or positive testing. It is ridiculous to add so much work to our already busy load just because the district doesn’t want to require masks. As a science teacher I know students don’t want to wear goggles when working with chemicals or glass, but I make them for safety. Masks should be required for the safety of ourselves AND others!
The 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 1.7-million-member American Federation of Teachers and AFL-CIO.