By Bismarck D. Andino

Texas teachers are sharing their concerns on social media about the new order from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to reopen schools in the fall amid the coronavirus pandemic, or else face a cut in their federally funded programs.

The primary concern is the health of teachers and students as schools aren’t prepared to handle confirmed cases in the classroom, said an elementary teacher from La Joya ISD, a border school in Hidalgo County.

“What if teachers catch the virus, are they going to pay for COVID-19 tests? Are they going to be paid for those days out?” These are some of the questions being echoed among teachers across the state and in a Facebook post, said a La Joya teacher, who did not want to use his name out of fear of reprisal.

“We can close a year of gap, but what we cannot do is bring a life back of a student, of a teacher, or of a family member,” he said. “I’m not saying that I want to stay online forever — it’s more work, it’s more stressful — but, we need to stay safe.”

Teachers concerns came in light of a recent rise in hospitalizations in the state. In the Rio Grande Valley area, for instance, 10 out of 12 hospitals reached capacity this month and patients continue to wait up to 10 hours to be delivered to packed emergency rooms.

On Wednesday, the office of Gov. Greg Abbott announced that the Department of Defense (DOD) will surge resources, which includes sending a task force to the area and medical support to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“We’re been told the new order would cut our funding if we don’t do in-person instruction,” the teacher said. “Many teachers are thinking about resigning, so we’re like in between a rock and a hard place.”

La Joya ISD superintendent, Gisela Saenz, said Monday the school district relies heavily on state aid for its funding, which comprises 80% of their annual budget.

“The decision to open schools on campus and online is a state requirement,” Saenz said in a letter. “TEA [Texas Education Agency] did not allow local boards and administration to make decisions on how to reopen schools.”

On Tuesday, however, Saenz said their Board of Trustees passed a resolution to delay in-person instruction for three weeks, and that they are working with city and county officials to take actions to prohibit in-person instruction until it is safe.

Delaying classes for the first three weeks is permissible under TEA guidance, which mandates school districts must offer in-person classes for five days to any student who wants it. An exception is the first three weeks because school districts could temporarily limit access to on- campus instruction.

Meanwhile, the Texas Classroom Teachers Association (TCTA) urged TEA education commissioner Michael Morath to consider public health and setting parameters that a community must meet before they decide to reopen schools.

These parameters must include:

  • A specified, sustained downward trajectory in new cases
  • A specified low overall per-capita level of new cases
  • A specified low rate of positive tests
  • A rate of testing per capita that is considered adequate for quickly identifying andcurbing outbreaks
  • And, a specified percentage of available hospital beds to ensure treatment for allhospitalized COVID-19 patients and to handle a potential surge in hospitalizations“

It is very clear that actions taken at the state level are literally life and death choices,” said TCTA executive director Jeri Stone. “The health and safety of millions of Texas schoolchildren and school employees, their families, and their communities, are at stake.”

But, last week, DeVos said President Donald Trump has been very clear about reopening schools and that there is no excuse for states not to do so and for kids not to be able to learn full-time.

Though, two days later, the president commuted the sentence (40-months prison time) of his longtime friend Roger Stone arguing he “would be put at serious medical risk” from the coronavirus if he was imprisoned, a logic that doesn’t seem to apply to teachers and students.

“The medical experts aren’t suggesting anything different … this is more an issue of adults who are more interested in their own issues than they are about serving their students,” DeVos said July 8 on Fox News. “It’s very clear that kids have got to go back to school.”

This is more an issue of adults who are more interested in their own issues than they are about serving their students,” DeVos said.

Contrasting with DeVos, however, the Travis County health authority said schools reopening could lead to between 40 to more than 1,300 deaths of students in the ages of 10 to 19. “Obviously when we move on to faculty and staff, that risk is much higher,” Dr. Mark Escott said Tuesday. “Somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 to 10 times higher in terms of rates of death.”

In that event, Austin ISD superintendent Paul Cruz said Tuesday they will also suspend in- person instruction and continue with virtual classes until Sept. 7, but Gov. Greg Abbott might extend it even further.

Either way, this is not enough time to allow schools to follow CDC guidelines, said Norma Jaime- Hernandez, a recently retired San Antonio teacher.

“Prior to COVID-19, we could not get supplies on a regular basis, we were limited in paper towels, we went days without soap,” said Jaime-Hernandez. “They are asking us to take great risks, there’s no salary adequate enough for the danger that they are putting us into.”

According to Jaime-Hernandez, the government has not been forthcoming on how it plans to open schools, especially implementing social distancing in classrooms.

“There should be additional buildings leased, there should be an abundance of PPE and supplies, and nobody is talking about these things,” she said. “There is no plan in place — or at least, if there is, it’s not being shared.”

Jaime-Hernandez also added schools are sending surveys to parents on whether their children will do virtual or in-person classes, but parents aren’t getting the information on how schools would address those issues.

Meanwhile, the Hidalgo County local health authority has issued a new order for remote learning at all schools, including La Joya ISD, until after Sept. 27. The decisions came in on a day the county reported 31 deaths due to COVID-19 complications, the deadliest day so far.

Currently, there are 834 people hospitalized, of those 210 are now being treated in intensive care units, according a county news release.

“I don’t want to come back home and get my family sick,” said the La Joya teacher. “The governor decided to open the state superfast, we were not ready.”

Even though the delay will allow his school to implement preventive measures, it would be nearly impossible to enforce them with kids, the teacher added.

“What about the Special Ed kids who need [teachers’] help, to show them, and to hold their hands,” he said, “or the little ones that want to give you a hug — you should see them on the first week of school crying around the hallway, lost.”

The following questions are being shared among teachers in a Facebook post demanding for answers

Betsy DeVos, we have a few questions for you:

• If a teacher tests positive for COVID-19 are they required to quarantine for 2-3 weeks? Is their sick leave covered, paid?

• If that teacher has 5 classes a day with 30 students each, do all 150 of those students need to then stay home and quarantine for 14 days?

• Do all 150 of those students now have to get tested? Who pays for those tests? Are they happening at school? How are the parents being notified? Does everyone in each of those kids’ families need to get tested? Who pays for that?

• What if someone who lives in the same house as a teacher tests positive? Does that teacher now need to take 14 days off of work to quarantine? Is that time off covered? Paid?

• Where is the district going to find a substitute teacher who will work in a classroom full of exposed, possibly infected students for substitute pay?

• Substitutes teach in multiple schools. What if they are diagnosed with COVID-19? Do all the kids in each school now have to quarantine and get tested? Who is going to pay for that?

• What if a student in your kid’s class tests positive? What if your kid tests positive? Does every other student and teacher they have been around quarantine? Do we all get notified who is infected and when? Or because of HIPAA regulations are parents and teachers just going to get mysterious “may have been in contact” emails all year long?

• What is this stress going to do to our teachers? How does it affect their health and well- being? How does it affect their ability to teach? How does it affect the quality of education they are able to provide? What is it going to do to our kids? What are the long-term effects of consistently being stressed out?

How many more people are going to die, that otherwise would not have if we had stayed home longer? From social media questions to Betsy DeVos

• How will it affect students and faculty when the first teacher in their school dies from this? The first parent of a student who brought it home? The first kid?

• How many more people are going to die, that otherwise would not have if we had stayed home longer? 30% of the teachers in the US are over 50. About 16% of the total deaths in the US are people between the ages of 45-65.

We are choosing to put our teachers in danger. We’re not paying them more.

We aren’t spending anywhere near the right amount to protect them. And in turn, we are putting ourselves and our kids in danger.

Please copy, paste and share.”


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