AUSTIN (KXAN) — The day before in-person learning is scheduled to resume at Austin Independent School District, the district’s superintendent Stephanie S. Elizalde wrote a letter to the district’s teachers and staff, urging that they show up to work in-person unless they had already been granted an exception not to do so by the district.

“While we are in positive conversations with Education Austin and our newly formed teacher and principal focus groups, the expectation is still for all teachers and staff, unless an accommodation has been approved, to report to their campus or office in person to work on Monday,” Elizalde wrote in the letter which AISD shared with KXAN.

She went on to say these measures are necessary to “ensure we are welcoming our students to the campus and not over burdening the staff who have already committed to return.”

According to AISD, as of October 2, out of all the staff across the district 1,563 medical waivers had been requested. Of those, the district said that 1,034 of those medical waivers had been granted, 151 are pending, 11 have been denied, and 367 are inactive.

Also on Sunday, a group of students from AISD’s Ann Richard’s School for Young Women Leaders gathered at the district headquarters for a rally, calling for more options to allow teachers to work virtually. Students at AISD are allowed to choose whether they would like to attend school in person or continue with virtual learning methods the district has operated under since the start of the school year.

A sign placed on the door to AISD headquarters during a rally to support options for teachers on October 4, 2020. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).

Ann Richards senior Guadalupe Torres asked the half-dozen students speaking with her to raise their hands if they had elected to return for in-person classes. None of these students raised their hands.

Teachers, Torres argued, should have the same choice.

“It’s not necessary for 100% of our teachers to go back,” she emphasized.

Several dozen AISD students, educators, and family members attended this rally. They wrote messages on pieces of paper and taped them to the district headquarters’ doors, hoping that district leaders would read them upon entering the building Monday.

Messages on these hand-written signs included:

  • “Keep my wife safe! I had to quite my job as a teacher as well so I could stay home with my special needs son.”
  • “Teachers take care of us. Time to take care of them.”
  • “My teacher’s health is just as important as mine.”
  • “Why are you letting my parents get sick?!”
  • “I can’t teach from the grave!”
  • “Our teachers deserve better!”

In attendance at the rally was Jake Morgan, an English teacher at Bowie High School. Morgan’s handwritten sign read “We start tomorrow. I’m terrified!”

Morgan plans on going into the classroom in person tomorrow to help out his fellow educators who may be in even more vulnerable positions with their own health or that of their family members.

“I’m trying to be here for my colleagues who can’t,” he said.

Additionally, Morgan said he is showing up in person to be there for the handful of his students who will be showing up to learn in person. The majority of his students are still opting to learn online, he explained.

Bowie High School English teacher Jake Morgan holds a sign at a rally at the AISD headquarters on October 4, 2020. Morgan said he is worried about the safety of returning to teaching class in person on Monday. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).

Morgan plans to enforce mask rules in his classroom and have all of his students distanced.

“Do I feel good about it? Not at all,” he clarified.

Morgan understands the district is confined by what the state and the Texas Education Agency will allow. But he hopes the district does consider giving teachers more options to work virtually during the pandemic.

“I just wanted to express my feelings right now, which is fear and anxiety about us opening up and about kids potentially spreading this disease to each other, to me, to my colleagues and their families,” he said.

Also present at Sunday’s rally was Ken Zarifis, the president of AISD employee union Education Austin. Zarifis described the student’s demonstration of support for their teachers as “powerful.”

He noted that negotiations between AISD and Education Austin are still very active and declined to share details yet to avoid speaking out of turn.

“What I want us to do is stay in firmly good-faith negations with the district,” Zarifis said.

While that effort continues, he added that Education Austin will be supporting its members whether they chose to take a day of leave, choose to go to work in-person, or choose to continue teaching virtually from home.