AUSTIN (KXAN) — With the first day of on-campus instruction starting in less than a week, the Austin Independent School District Human Capital Department is sorting through hundreds of medical accommodation requests from teachers and staff seeking permission to continue working from home.
In the AISD Board of Trustees meeting on Monday night, Fernando Medina, the district’s Chief Human Capital Officer explained how they were processing these accommodation requests. As of Monday, the district says there were 427 requests still pending from teachers and other district staff members.
Of the 1,533 requests for accomodations due to medical conditions, 59% had been approved. 13 requests had been denied and 188 requests have been withdrawn or marked inactive.
A district spokesperson said a reason for the backlog is due to the back-and-forth nature of the verification process. The spokesperson said often, the Human Capital team will request doctor’s notes and will need to communicate with campus supervisors to determine the impact it would have on student outcomes.
The district is following CDC guidelines to prioritize eligibility for an accommodation, including staff members who have cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, type two diabetes and/or are pregnant.
“I think there is a lot of fear on the part of staff who haven’t been reviewed yet of what that means for them,” AISD Trustee Yasmin Wagner said.
AISD Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde said there may be times where a teacher or staff member is eligible to become a virtual instructor, but extenuating circumstances, such as campus staffing, may prevent the district from extending approval.
Elizalde said medical conditions are being prioritized strictly for the employee and not for family members, although some exceptions may apply depending on the severity of the situation.
“Those employees who are at an increased risk are prioritized for an accommodation, followed by those with underlying health conditions that may put them at increased risk. Employees must personally qualify to receive an accommodation. If an employee has a family member over 65 or immunocompromised, the employee may request to use any available leave.”Austin Independent School District
Teachers who have been granted an accommodation tell KXAN it was a significant stress relief to find out they can continue their work from home and not risk their health.
“I also feel safer, which allows me to do my job better,” said dual language Kindergarten teacher Carmela Valdez. “Many of the teachers who I have spoken to who are going back have an added layer of stress that they are having to deal with. And in some cases, guilt, that if they do something wrong, someone could get really hurt.”
While Dr. Elizalde emphasized decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis and not everyone who is eligible will be granted an accommodation, she is encouraging everyone to apply if they would like to.
“We are going to work any creative way we can to find a way to work around those situations whenever possible,” Dr. Elizalde said, encouraging everyone to apply for an accommodation if they feel they would qualify. “Let us work through it, and see what we can do.”
Other school districts
Eanes ISD said its Human Resources department is having one-on-one discussions with staff to work through their accommodations requests. If extreme cases are found, the district said people are able to work remotely or work in an empty classroom.
“We’re identifying possible accommodations to meet staff needs: PPE, plexiglass, schedule adjustments, working in an empty classroom, etc. We are doing everything we can to help employees transition safely, as we need our staff members safe but in the building,” Eanes ISD said in a statement.
In Round Rock ISD, some teachers have been granted both ADA accommodations and alternative work arrangements. More information is available on the district website.
“Our ability to grant these accommodations is based on student need. Currently, we have been able to grant most requests,” Round Rock ISD said in a statement.
In Hays CISD, district leaders said 95 teacher requests were approved. Four requests are being processed at the moment, and only two were denied outright, the district said.
“All medical accommodations have been reviewed based on physician recommendation due to the employee or employee immediate family’s medical condition, which may include what the CDC has deemed high risk” Hays CISD said in a statement.
The district also said its accommodations are based on student, campus and district needs.