AUSTIN (KXAN) — For 13 years, Mr. Richard Dowell, a fourth grade teacher at Bryker Woods Elementary, has passionately served his students and Austin ISD.
“It’s the best job in the world, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” Dowell said.
But the past four years have been a struggle. Mr. Dowell, Richard, or Dad as he’s known at home, suffered deteriorating health — with no clear diagnosis.
In June, doctors discovered he has a brain tumor. Then a phone call from Austin ISD’s Human Relations Department added stress.
“It never entered my mind that this was going to be a possibility,” Dowell said. “That they would after 13 years of employment say, ‘Well, we’re sorry. We’re not going to help you.’“
The district cited a board policy that said you qualify for extended leave at partial pay “only after completing one month (30 calendar days)… during the current school year.”
With surgery scheduled for September, he hasn’t been able to work this year, and doesn’t qualify.
KXAN reached out to all nine school board members to ask why they have this policy for veteran teachers. Not one responded to our request for comment.
“It’s mortgages and rents and, you know, bills to pay,” said Richard’s wife Megan.
Dowell now wishes he knew about the tumor during the last school year, when he would have qualified for a month and a half off.
“He would get 45 extended sick leave days,” Megan said.
Instead, he faces an upcoming surgery and uncertain future.
“I just want to be paid for the short amount of time I’m going to be off, so we don’t lose everything we have,” Dowell said.
Dowell’s recovery is expected to take about a month, but should there be any setbacks, he can take up to 12 weeks of federally mandated family and medical leave without pay.
Any longer than that, and he’s been told he’ll have to resign from his job.
Austin City Council member Kathie Tovo said in a private Facebook post that her daughters were former students of Dowell’s. She gave permission to KXAN to publish her statement.
“My daughters were among the hundreds of elementary schoolers who learned to love Shakespeare, among many other subjects, from the fabulous Mr. Dowell at Bryker Woods,” Tovo wrote. “We were so sorry to hear both about his upcoming surgery — and about the AISD policy that will prevent him from receiving paid medical leave because the surgery is scheduled after summer break. I hope AISD’s trustees will consider revising this policy for long-time teachers.”
A Go Fund Me Page has already raised nearly $23,000 for him.