More than 100 teacher and staff continue their grievance hearings against Austin ISD

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — More than 25 of the original 127 teacher and staff grievances filed against the Austin Independent School District have been resolved, the lawyer representing the staff members said.

Tiger Hanner, the local attorney representing these staff members, said he is attending dozens of grievance hearings each week. Hanner said he sat through 52 stage one hearings last week with an additional 37 scheduled for this week.

Hanner said many of these grievances are being resolved on campus, with principals providing compromises which sufficiently tailor to the teacher or staff member’s needs. Only one case was resolved by the Central Office, Hanner said. That’s the case of Austin High School drama teacher Annie Dragoo, who was allowed to work from home after she was hospitalized for a separate medical emergency.

Hearings for Level 1 grievances began on January 15 and the vast majority are expected to be heard by January 29. The District continues to engage in the interactive process with employees to identify and provide onsite accommodations.

Austin Independent School District

While Hanner was pleased more than two dozen grievances were resolved, he also said the district is not making it easy to hear out the cases of the more than 100 remaining staff members. Hanner described the tedious process, saying the remaining cases will likely go before the AISD Board of Trustees in the summer at the earliest.

He also questioned the decision making of the district’s administration in inviting teachers and students back to campus this Monday after Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott instructed families to stay virtual if they could.

“We are still in stage 5, the numbers are out of control and by ordering everyone back to work, all you are going to do is put more and more people at risk and send our numbers skyrocketing again,” Hanner said. “It’s a dangerous game and they are playing with people’s lives.”

In the Austin ISD Board of Trustees meeting on Monday night, Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde defended her decision. She said a drop in hospitalizations and infections is giving her confidence about students returning.

After consulting with Dr. Escott and surveying the data, including local drops in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and ICU admissions, she said she had given her blessing to “open cautiously.”

Last week, there 93 new positive cases reported. That follows a previous record of 183 positive cases at the beginning of January. It’s important to note that there were less students on campus the past two weeks, which would affect the number of students testing positive.

On Monday, the district welcomed back 13,586 students, representing 18% of the district’s population. For comparison, On Tuesday, Jan. 12, after Elizalde encouraged families to learn virtually, only 5,012 students came to campus, representing 7%.

Vaccinations

Elizalde said approximately 1,400 to 1,500 AISD teachers and staff have been vaccinated through district means, estimating the number could be greater based on those employees who sought vaccinations through their own means.

Austin Public Health is working to provide the district additional details for upcoming vaccination opportunities. The district says it has notified APH of approximately 2,000 employees who qualify in the 1A or 1B category.

O’Henry Middle School Teacher Leslie Hibbard was one AISD teacher who received her first dose.

“Most of us are just scrambling, trying to find anything we can. We’ve got big group texts going on, sharing links and spreading the word ourselves,” Hibbard said.

Although she was denied a medical accommodation to work from home in the spring, Hibbard said she was pleasantly surprised at the low turnout of students in these first few weeks, which has put her at ease. The added protection of the vaccine also reassures her daily.

“I feel like students, for the most part, are good at wearing their masks. Not great at social distancing, but our class numbers are low enough to where us teachers can feel comfortable,” Hillard said.

Mass Testing

Austin ISD is conducting mass COVID-19 testing every week the Austin-Travis County area is in Stage 5 of COVID risk.

This is open to all students and staff, regardless of whether they’re on-campus or not.

During the testing events on January 14 and January 15, 1,021 students and staff were tested and 42 came back positive. KXAN is still awaiting the number of tests rendered and positive cases from the event last Thursday, Jan. 21.

Students and staff will have another opportunity to get tested this Friday, Jan. 29. You can go to Nelson Field at Northeast Early College High School or to the Austin ISD Central Office. Testing goes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at alexc@kxan.com or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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