After closing briefly at the start of the pandemic, Open Door Preschools reopened one of its three Austin locations in early April to serve essential workers. Since then, the local business has seen enrollment increase enough to reopen a second location but not enough to keep its third location from closing permanently.
The financial impact of the pandemic coupled with the workplace modifications required to keep staff and students safe have been hard on everyone. "We're seeing a lot of stress and burnout in our teachers," Executive Director Cynthia McCollum told Austonia.
When the vaccine rollout began in mid-December, it was a bit of a tease for educators and child care personnel. "I certainly didn't think there were people on the list who should wait behind teachers and childhood educators," McCollum said. "But it was frustrating and really discouraging for my teachers and myself. It felt like our work and what we'd been doing to keep families safe and able to go to work was not a priority and wasn't valued."
This all changed earlier this month when the Texas Department of State Health Services announced school staff and child care personnel were now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. The change came after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services directed states to expand eligibility to these groups if they hadn't already.
The Texas State Teachers Association and Education Austin, a union representing Austin ISD employees, attributed the change to President Joe Biden and criticized Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for not making it sooner. "We're very excited, very pleased that the president prioritized teachers and school employee workers," EA President Ken Zarifis said. "We think that it's been a long time coming."
A targeted rollout
As state health officials have expanded eligibility criteria for the vaccine, some already eligible residents have expressed consternation: supply remains limited, and expanded eligibility only increases the competition for the limited available appointments. In response, local providers have been working with school districts and local childcare providers to ensure their staff are able to make appointments.
Prior to DSHS' announcement, Austin Public Health and other providers were already working with area school districts and child care providers to connect educators in group 1B—which includes people 65 and older and people 16 to 64 with a medical condition—to appointments.
McCollum fell into this category. She spent more than two hours at her computer before she was able to secure an appointment. "It really reminded me of the early 2000s trying to get concert tickets," she said. But the payoff was significant. "At least for me, personally, where I got my first shot I got a palpable relief," she said. "I was closer to feeling safe than I had for almost a year."
An Austin ISD elementary reading teacher receives a dose of the vaccine at an Ascension Seton vaccine clinic in early January. The district and hospital system partnered up to provide vaccines to staff who fell into the 1B group. (Ascension Seton)
Since the state expanded eligibility criteria to include educators, McCollum estimates that more than half of Open Door's 54-person staff has been able to get at least one dose. The preschool is offering staff a modest cash incentive—McCollum declined to say how much—to encourage them to make an appointment, especially given the time required to do so.
After DSHS' announcement, APH announced that it would host School Saturdays, setting aside around 1,500 initial doses as part of its weekly 12,000-dose allocation specifically for educators and childcare personnel. Travis County is also working with area school districts to provide access to its weekend vaccine clinic at the Circuit of the Americas, a mass event coordinated with Ascension Seton, CommUnity Health Centers and Bastrop, Caldwell and Hays counties.
Over the weekend, we vaccinated 14K people at our Central TX Collaborative Drive-Thru Vaccine Clinic. This clinic has vaccinated 27K people, mostly low-income, uninsured people and school staff.
Thank you @CommUnityCareTX, @AscensionSeton, & over 900 volunteers! #TCoVax pic.twitter.com/vvEsAAXXQz
— Travis County Judge Andy Brown (@TravisCoJudge) March 15, 2021
Within the first week of the state eligibility criteria change, APH had vaccinated approximately 5,500 teachers and 2,168 childcare providers. This does not include those vaccinated through other providers or at the COTA drive-thru clinic. DSHS estimates that there are 32,884 educators and child care personnel in Travis County.
Such targeted outreach has helped educators access vaccine appointments despite the high demand and technical glitches that may be stymieing other eligible residents. "People are going out and they're getting vaccinated," Zarifis said, adding that Austin ISD expects that any staff members who wish to be vaccinated should be able to be so by the end of spring break, which is this week. "That's a much different narrative than two months ago."
Super thankful @ltisdschools hooked their teachers up with vaccines! pic.twitter.com/oUQrhIge4x
— Coach LeDoux (@CoachLeDoux5) March 12, 2021
Room for improvement
Despite this progress, there are still snags in the system. Cathy McHorse, vice president of the United Way for Greater Austin's Success By 6 early childhood coalition, said child care personnel, in particular, may have trouble accessing appointments because they tend to be underpaid and lack health insurance, limiting their options to providers who are providing vaccines to people outside of their existing patients. It may also be hard for them to get time off from work when vaccine appointments are available. "They don't have paid leave," McHorse said, and there are no substitutes in childcare.
Childcare personnel may also lack access to the communication infrastructure—made up of school email addresses, identification badges, listserv access—or union representation that has helped school employees make appointments.
"What makes childcare more complicated than schools is that schools are big, bureaucratic institutions," McHorse said, adding that there is no state database of childcare workers in Texas.
For these reasons, the work APH and the COTA drive-thru coalition are doing to reach out to educators and childcare personnel directly is essential. So too is the work of people like Mari, a children's book author who lives in Circle C and has helped coordinate vaccine appointments for around 100 people, including teachers. (She asked that her last name not be used so that she isn't bombarded with new requests.)
Mari initially helped schedule a vaccine appointment for her mother, who is considered high risk and lives in Florida, in January. Since then, she has helped many others, using a Slack channel that scrapes provider sites for available appointments and other tricks.
When DSHS announced it was expanding eligibility to teachers and childcare personnel, Mari started helping them make appointments, too. She was frustrated by Abbott's announcement around the same time that he would lift the statewide mask mandate and other pandemic business restrictions, which she thought was premature, and wanted to channel her anger into something productive, like helping teachers get vaccinated. "They just don't have time to go on the internet and stalk these sites for these appointments that open up for two seconds before they're filled," she said.
Mari has been able to make an appointment to everyone that has reached out to her, typically within 24 hours. "They're so grateful because they're so frustrated," she said. "It shouldn't be so hard to get a vaccine if you're eligible for them."
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After their first two-win week and a two-week hiatus, Austin FC is back at home against Minnesota United as they attempt to up their home win streak to three on Saturday.
The team kicks off at 8 p.m. against the Loons in their first matchup since a 2-0 loss in June, but they're 1-1 against the club after beating Minnesota in May for their first-ever shutout.
Austin maintains a last-place spot in the West but has seen a bit of a late comeback with two wins in their last three matches. Austin's Cecilia Dominguez, who scored a brace for the team in their last match against Real Salt Lake, will look to keep that momentum as the team works for another victory. Meanwhile, the seventh-place Loons will work to keep that last spot in playoff contention as the season nears its end.
Follow along here for updates on the biggest plays of the match.
61' Djitte loses chance after controversial call
In the 61st minute of a less-cohesive half for Austin, Moussa Djitte found himself alone near the goal with a good chance at making the home team's first goal. But referees had another ideas, making another controversial call on the Senegalese striker.Refs stopped Djitte's menacing drive after Minnesota's Michael Boxall appeared to flop in a run-in with the striker, curbing Djitte's attempt to boos from the crowd. It's Djitte's second foul of the night and the team's ninth foul in the match. Both clubs host a yellow card, with center back Julio Cascante holding the home team's sole warning call. Minnesota's Emmanuel Reynoso holds the away team's yellow after an obvious flop that left him rolling on the ground for minutes, waiting on a call.
Blown whistles for both sides have slowed the match's tempo and left both clubs reeling as Austin looks for its first goal.
At the half: Austin still can't finish
45' still left to play. pic.twitter.com/39J1XnvvOc— Austin FC (@AustinFC) October 17, 2021
With minutes-long shooting sprees and more shots on goal than Minnesota, Austin could easily have the lead in the match. But each crowd-raising attempt has still been slightly skewed as the home team ends the half with nothing on the board.
In just 45 minutes, both Austin and Minnesota have reached the double-digits in scoring attempts, but Minnesota's ability to infiltrate Austin's penalty box has given them the leg up in the match. The Loons have sometimes found themselves nearly alone alarmingly close to goal, and they've capitalized on their chances with a 16thb minute goal by Franco Fragapane.
Austin FC, however, has not. The club has seen close calls from Dominguez and Driussi, headers from Djitte and near-misses from Tomas Pochettino, but missed opportunities and a few strokes of bad luck have left them scoreless. The team will need to shake their age-old scoring issues if they hope to get back into tonight's game.
16' Minnesota nabs 1-0 lead
Austin may have struck first, but Minnesota won the first points on the board as Franco Fragapane got one past keeper Brad Stuver from a close range in the 16th minute to make it 1-0. The Loons tested Stuver just as Austin did Miller, making two anxiety-inducing shots before Fragapane struck gold.
This goalie-vs.-goalie match has already seen three shots on goal from each team and a relatively quiet midfield as each team dukes it out in the box.
11' Austin tests Minnesota first
Austin FC has taken no time to threaten goal. In a three-minute span, the home team has racked up three shots, two of which are on goal, as the ball bounces between Austin attackers but can't quite find the net.
Dominguez strikes first as he looks to find his third goal in three matches in the eights minute, but Minnesota's Tyler Miller fights back with a clutch save. Djitte then tests Miller just seconds later, while Driussi takes a final shot from farther back that just misses the top left corner.
Austin's Fagundez and Pochettino were the playmakers of the three-minute shooting spree, but the club still came out scoreless. Minnesota soon rebounded with a shot of their own that was blocked by keeper Brad Stuver.
This may be Austin FC's most popular lineup— even the crankiest fans are commending the strong starting XI on Twitter. Tonight's starters are the same as in their win against Salt Lake.
New standouts Moussa Djitte and Sebastian Driussi are in alongside double-scorer Cecilio Dominguez up front, while fan favorite Diego Fagundez, Captain Alex Ring and Designated Player Tomas Pochettino take the midfield.
With Matt Besler still out on concussion protocol, Zan Kolmanic, Jhohan Romana and Julio Cascante take the back along with Hector Jimenez, who is in for right back Nick Lima. As (almost) always, Brad Stuver holds it down in goal.
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An Austin-based program manager for Apple Maps and one of two leaders for the #AppleToo activist movement said she has been fired after a suspension.
According to the New York Times, Janneke Parrish said she was put on suspension for several days while the company investigated her activities before she was fired by a human resources employee via phone call on Thursday.
Parrish was under investigation for allegedly leaking a recording of an Apple staff meeting to the media, which she said she didn't do.
The report said the company told Parrish, who is 30, that she was being fired for having deleted files off her company-issued phone and computer before handing them in for examination. Parrish said the files she deleted contained her personal and financial information.
Among the files she deleted were the Robinhood app, which she said was to keep Apple from seeing "how much money I lost investing in GameStop," the Pokemon Go app and screenshots of programming bugs she was fixing.
Parrish said she believes Apple was retaliating against her efforts in organizing #AppleToo, a group of employees working to expose the company's "culture of secrecy" that has been "faced disproportionately by our Black, Indigenous, and other colleagues from minoritized racial, gender and historically marginalized groups of people."
Parrish had been publishing weekly accounts of workplace problems that had been shared anonymously with her from other employees, though she did not verify employment on all of them. The accounts she received were in the hundreds, so Parrish said she was hopeful her termination would lead to some justice within the company.
Employees at tech giants have been more outspoken than usual in recent months—with former Facebook data scientist Frances Haugen speaking out against her former employer—and Parrish said the company's desire to keep under wraps has eroded trust by discouraging employees to come forward with issues like harassment or wage disparity.
Apple spokesman Josh Rosenstock commented on the matter: "We are and have always been deeply committed to creating and maintaining a positive and inclusive workplace. We take all concerns seriously and we thoroughly investigate whenever a concern is raised and, out of respect for the privacy of any individuals involved, we do not discuss specific employee matters."
Additionally, the email detailing her termination, which was obtained by the New York Times, said Apple had determined that Parrish "engaged in conduct in violation of Apple policies including, but not limited to, interfering with an investigation by deleting files on your company provided equipment after being specifically instructed not to do so."
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