AUSTIN (KXAN) — Members of the Austin Independent Board of Trustees discussed the ongoing community tensions at the board meeting Monday night as education groups have mounted increased pressure on the district to provide flexibility to its staff.
Board President Geronimo Rodriguez said Austin-Travis County Interim Health Director Dr. Mark Escott led a special presentation with Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde at 5:30 p.m. to discuss the safety of reopening Oct. 5.
This major update comes as hundreds of teachers and staff have voiced their continued displeasure with the district’s decision to move forward with in-person learning.
On Saturday, dozens of cars filled with various members of AISD personnel drove to the district headquarters in a show of solidarity to protest the reopening of schools to students on Oct. 5.
Education Austin, the organization that represents AISD teachers and staff, has called for schools to only reopen when there is a decline in new cases for at least 14 consecutive days, with a positivity rate of less than 5% and a transmission rate of less than 1%.
On Monday, other staff members doubled down on those efforts. One special education teaching assistant, who has asked to remain anonymous, told KXAN they will not show up to school in-person next Monday, saying they know other colleagues have also pledged to stay at home.
“They want me to just walk in there willingly? I don’t think I get paid enough for that, you know,” the TA said. “I am curious to see how they will continue working without a lot of the staff and teachers. I am seeing a lot of resignations. I am seeing good teachers leaving, because they are not giving these choices.”
The resignation letter of a beloved Kiker Elementary School librarian circulated on social media on Monday, with parents expressing their sympathies. In it, the librarian said she will not be returning due to ongoing concern for COVID-19 exposure.
“I am truly heartbroken to leave a job I love so much and people I care about so deeply. However, my family must come first and therefore, since I cannot work remotely, I must resign,” the letter, written by Sonya Butler and distributed by Kiker Elementary School, reads.
The school district told KXAN that all staff will be required to take on new tasks this year. They are asking for everyone to be flexible during this unprecedented semester.
“Teaching Assistants, like all of our staff, are being asked to adapt to a new reality. As such, they may have new responsibilities when they return to campus. The responsibilities of TAs will vary per campus need. They will be provided PPE if needed.”Austin Independent School District
When asked about the pay structure for teaching assistants and other staff, the district said the Board of Trustees had already adopted the budget for the year, which includes the prearranged compensation plan.
“We care about all of our employees. I care about all of our employees. Teachers are the heart of our work,” said Dr. Elizalde.
She reinforced her concern for her employees, but said students need to come first. She plans to create a group made up of 40 staff members who will provide feedback about work on campus.
“I’m happy to say 23 of 40 teachers have already agreed to serve and work with us, work with me, to find alternate ways of meeting teachers needs,” she said.
“Yes, I support the reopening plan. Yes, I support it by sending my wife to work or being comfortable with her doing that and by sending my kids in person into the classroom,” Dr. Escott said.
He said there is no evidence of transmission within the classroom at this point; he sees it mostly in extracurriculars like sports and choir. He said he will continue to meet with Dr. Elizalde weekly to discuss local COVID-19 numbers.