Union leaders for teachers and staff at Austin ISD said Wednesday that opening the schools for in-person classes in August, as its recent announcement suggests it might, is dangerous, and pushed for the district to keep classes strictly online until at least November.
"All signs point to disaster," said Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin, the labor union for AISD employees. "This building is on fire and raging, and we have a [state education] commissioner and a governor that are saying, 'Run into the building,' and we're saying, 'We will not run into a building that is burning, we will not send our children into a burning building.'"
Zarifis said it will encourage its membership, which includes 3,000 teachers and bus drivers and other staffers in the schools, to teach online from home and defy orders to attend in-person if the district doesn't change its plans and close for the first nine weeks of school, which starts Aug. 18. The nine-week period corresponds with the end of the first grading period for many schools.
"We're not calling it a work stoppage because they will continue to work," Zarifis said.
Employees who can't do their jobs from home, such as bus drivers, should continue to be paid, he said. Teachers who do go back to school to teach in-person should be given "hero pay," and the state should stop threatening to pull funding from schools that do not open, Zarifis said.
"I miss my students so much, and I am dying to go back. I'm just not willing to die to go back," said Carmela Valdez, a teacher at Perez Elementary who lives with relatives at high risk for COVID-19 as well as her own mother in her home.
'Subject to change'
On Monday, Superintendent Paul Cruz said the district will give students the option to take their classes entirely online or entirely in person, reflecting what Cruz said was a division by parents on the issue—half want online classes only, half want to send their kids to school.
The district previously discussed a "blended learning," or hybrid, option. The school year will start August 18, and the in-person class option is subject to change, Cruz said.
"This is what we're planning for, but it could change at any time as we get more experience with COVID-19 and the way it's impacting the city of Austin," Cruz said.
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May's second election is here, in which voters will decide on the candidates to represent their party in the November general election after the winner in some March primary races was unclear.
Just like the March primaries, voters will choose which party they choose to vote in. Then based on location, each ballot will show which races are in a runoff.
In Texas, candidates must win at least 50% of the vote to be elected. In the races where the top candidate only received a plurality of votes, a runoff is being held.
Here's everything you need to know before heading to the polls.
Know before you go
Early voting for the Texas primary runoff election begins Monday and will last through May 20; Election Day is May 24.
The registration period for this election has passed; check if you're registered to vote here.
The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. As long as you're in line by 7 p.m., you can vote.
You'll need a valid photo ID to present once you're at a polling location.
Here are the early voting locations in Travis County.
View wait times at polling locations here.
Races to watch in Travis County:
- Republican: Incumbent Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick won his primary in March.
- Democratic: Mike Collier and Michelle Beckley are vying to be the Democrat candidate on the ballot.
- Republican: Incumbent AG Ken Paxton is fighting for his seat against George P. Bush.
- Democratic: Rochelle Garza and Joe Jaworski will face off to be the Democratic candidate in this race.
View all the statewide races on the ballot here.
U.S. House of Representatives
View the district you live in here.
- Republican: Incumbent Chip Roy won his primary in March.
- Democratic: Claudia Andreana Zapata and Ricardo Villarreal are hoping to secure this vote.
- Republican: Dan McQueen and Michael Rodriguez are going head to head to be the Republican candidate in this race.
- Democratic: Former Austin council member Greg Casar won this race in March.
- Republican: Ellen Troxclair and Justin Berry are vying to be the Republican candidate in this race.
- Democratic: Pam Baggett won her primary in March.
Fuel costs in Austin and across the nation are record high—and they're not going down anytime soon.
Average gas prices in Travis County are sitting a hefty $4.16 per gallon, according to AAA, compared to an average of $2.70 last year. Nationwide, fuel prices are at an average of $4.48 per gallon.
The bill per gallon is the highest ever recorded in Austin but experts don’t expect a reprieve anytime soon—GasBuddy head of petroleum analysis Patrick DeHaan said to expect new records on a “near daily” basis.
"There isn’t much reason to be optimistic that we’ll see a plunge any time soon,” DeHaan said, adding to expect prices closer to $5 by the end of the week.
Why are prices climbing? DeHaan says to blame low inventory combined with high demand, more expensive blends and warming temperatures jump-starting “driving season.”
While gas prices are marginally cheaper in Williamson and Hays Counties, between $4.12-$4.13, surrounding counties are locked into the same price range.