Hundreds of AISD Teachers May Refuse to Report to Campus for In-Person Classes

Education Austin organizes action in response to schools reopening

AISD community members delivered reopening questions to AISD's headquarters on Sat., Sept. 26, as part of Education Austin's community car caravan. (Photo by John Anderson)

As Austin ISD students return to classrooms on Monday, Oct. 5, potentially 1,000 teachers may refuse to report to campus, in an action organized by Education Austin. While final numbers won’t be released until tomorrow at Education Austin’s press conference and public hearing, over 800 teachers have already committed to teaching virtually until certain safety conditions are met, according to EA president Ken Zarifis.

“[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 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.”

Foremost on the list of Education Austin’s concerns, Zarifis said, is that teachers who do not feel safe returning to the classroom should not be required to come in. The district’s current policy states that all teachers, unless they are immunocompromised and have been approved for a health accommodation, must return to campus come Monday. As of Sept. 28, 925 accommodation requests had been submitted by teachers, and 504 approved, of the district’s 5,500-plus teachers.

Zarifis said the union will also be requesting better training on logistics and protocols upon returning to campus, and that AISD consider a slower phased-in reopening process. Campuses will operate at up to 25% capacity for the first two weeks of in-person school, and will go up to 50% for the last two weeks of October, as Austin health authorities allow. (Austin’s current Phase 3 considers 50% school capacity safe.) About a third of AISD parent respondents expressed interest in returning to campus, including just 15% of high school parents, in a recent district survey.

Austin-Travis County Interim Health Director Dr. Mark Escott said at Monday night's board meeting that he has been meeting weekly with Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde, and that he supports the district’s phased-in reopening plan. The main transmission risk for youth, he said, is at extracurriculars or social events where mask-wearing and social distancing is not practiced.

“We know that this action, come Monday, is a very bold action,” Zarifis told us. “We have not seen anywhere in Texas, certainly not in the last 20 or 30 years, where anything like this has happened. 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.”

For more on AISD's reopening, see this week's print issue, which hits stands tomorrow (Oct. 1).

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Austin Independent School District, AISD, Ken Zarifis, Education Austin, Mark Escott, Stephanie Elizalde, school reopening, AISD reopening, COVID-19

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