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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