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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Austin FC couldn't find the stamina to fight off a 2-0 loss against LAFC for their inaugural match on Saturday.
The match, which saw No. 21 Austin FC go head-to-head with No. 2 LAFC in Los Angeles, was broadcast nationally on FOX and FOX Deportes.
Salute the support. 👏
It's only the beginning for @AustinFC. pic.twitter.com/TduorqYr2y
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 18, 2021
Eleven players took the stage as Austin FC players for the first time, with five starters making their MLS debut. "Ringleader" Alex Ring took the captain's armband and wore it well. The defensive midfielder could be seen leading his teammates through their first ever match, but it wasn't enough to stage an Austin takeover in LA.
In the signature style of Head Coach Josh Wolff, the team played with quickness and intensity, nearly connecting on several fast breaks. It was harder for them to stay in front, however, something that Wolff credits with quick decision making and a tough LAFC defense.
"We have a quick attacking team, but I think when you make quick attacks and it fizzles it's just about some decision making," Wolff said. "Are we in position to finish attacks? If not, can we reestablish our attack and get stuff better?"
The club was given some generous breaks from No. 2 LAFC, who had one or both of their star DPs out for the half. While forward Diego Rossi is out for the entire match due to a hamstring injury, Carlos Vela was accidentally pulled too soon on what turned out to be a miscommunication.
"He gave us the sign that he needed to come off," LAFC Head Coach Bob Bradley said on broadcast. "I can't say more than maybe it's my fault."
LA pulled some dramatics and slowly gained more possession throughout the half, but ATXFC's defense wasn't initially as shaky as it seemed in preseason. Jhohan Romana has pulled his weight in getting the ball out of goal, and a 34-year old Matt Besler held his own in center back.
As the second half commenced, however, it became clear that LAFC had the advantage over Austin's first major league team.
Goalkeeper Brad Stuver had his work cut out for him, fending off 24 shot attempts, 11 of which were on goal. He didn't have much time to prepare, either: in the first 30 seconds of play, Stuver had already made a save to keep the match 0-0.
LAFC finally connected in the 61st minute of play as Corey Baird shot one into the bottom right corner. The team capitalized off their momentum and put one past Stuver a second time, drawing roars of approval from the LAFC crowd.
While some last-minute attempts from Jon Gallagher and others were made, Austin FC didn't have the endurance to bring a tie. After seven additional minutes of stoppage time, the club lost their first match 2-0.
While the scoreboard tells one story, Wolff said that the team did well considering the skill of LAFC and the pressure of their club debut.
"We've got to be realistic," Wolff said. "This is the first time this organization has been in front of TV with an opportunity to show itself and I think there were some promising moments. And we're going to maximize those and continue to try to develop those, but there's lots to build on."
The team may have lost, but it still won the support of thousands of Verde fans, dozens of which made it to watch their team's first match. When Stuver and the team made it to bthe stadium, Los Verdes fans were already there to show support, and Stuver said his wife saw the same back in Austin.
"The moment that we pulled into the stadium, we saw Black and Verde fans cheering us on as we got to the stadium," Stuver said. "During warm up, you can just look around and see different groups sitting in different sections of the stadium and it's just truly amazing to see the support in our first game. We know that we want to give the fans everything, because this we play for the city and we play for them."