‘I can’t teach them from a casket’: Teachers with medical waivers express concerns on school return

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — KXAN received several emails over the weekend from concerned teachers and staff members in Eanes Independent School District. They tell KXAN they have to return to work next week, despite medical waivers allowing them to work remotely.

In August, eighth grade teacher Gina Morreale submitted medical documentation to Eanes ISD requesting to work remotely because of health reasons.

“They accepted them and in fact they told me not to go to campus,” Morreale said. “I’m the cheer sponsor and they told me we can’t have you on campus, you have to rely on your cheer moms for activities.”

On Friday, Morreale received an email from the district saying all employees must return to campus by Sept. 21.

“Immediately, my brain went to…am I going to end up on a vent? I can’t teach them from a casket…what do I do?” Morreale said.

In an email over the summer, the district told employees working remotely that they could be called back to campus at any time, if they were needed.

According to the district, since the start of school, campuses have been short-staffed even with just 25% capacity. Some campuses have been forced to have an all-hands approach and even have principals serving as teachers in classrooms.

Eanes ISD says schools need teachers, counselors, librarians, aides and all special education teachers and aides. The district says without more in-building staff, it may have difficulties providing a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Allyson Vaughn, who is currently teaching in-person at a school in the district, posted a YouTube video stating additional concerns that some teachers have ahead of heading back to school.

“Many of us are having to make decisions about whether we want to continue our career at the expense of our health and safety and our family members’ health and safety,” Vaughn said.

Both Vaughn and Morreale say they do not want to resign and want to see their students as soon as they can, when it is safe.

“I love my kids, I keep in touch with them, but…do I have to be unemployed? How am I going to pay my bills? Do I risk my life? It’s a decision I never ever thought in this profession I would have to make,” Morreale said.

This is understandably a difficult issue; we value and appreciate our staff and will do what we can to accommodate the return to the building. For the past few months, we have honored staff requests for remote work but regrettably, various factors now require the district to ask all staff to return to work as early as Sept. 21.

Eanes ISD spokesperson

The district says its human resources staff will have discussions with staff and work through accommodations. Each case will be evaluated and each person will be heard.

On Sept. 8, 2020, the Eanes ISD Board of Trustees re-evaluated and re-directed the district’s phase-in plan for returning students to in-person learning, according to the district. With that new direction, all students whose families opted for in-person learning on the August survey will be allowed to return to school on Sept. 21, 2020. According to the district, the return of more students requires the district to reassess staffing needs.

While the board and district says they will be sensitive to staff needs, they say they also must be sensitive to the needs of students of in-person student learning and remote learning. The district says in its buildings, for in-person learning, it needs to provide a safe environment with sufficient staff for supervision.

The district will consider several accommodations:

  • including additional PPE (personal protective equipment) and additional classroom protective equipment (plexiglass, table barriers, tape designations, door signs)
  • different/alternative classroom arrangements and access to hallways and entrances/exits when they are less crowded
  • duty schedules that do not involve crowded locations and outdoor duties when possible
  • classroom mail/supply delivery (instead of central pickup),
  • childcare options (Child Development Center and EASYCare)

As of Sept. 13, the district says student/staff active COVID-19 cases are:

  • Westlake High School: 3
  • Eanes Elementary: 1
  • Total: 4

The district says on Monday, the total number will drop to 2 (assuming no new cases) since two of those cases will not be considered active after Monday.

The Austin ISD has the return to school plan for staff members laid out on its website. We have also reached out to other districts in the area to see what their plan is. We will update this story once we hear back.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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